Jumping the "S-Curve" to Breakthrough Success

Growth for many firms is shaped like an S, with periods of stable growth punctuated by sharp rises after a new product is introduced -- the curves in the S. Then the line flattens again.

For high-growth companies the goal is to get to the next turn in the trajectory -- the next new product or service offering -- as quickly as possible. But as this provocative piece by Lynn Grenier in the Globe and Mail articulates, the process of advancing ahead to the next big opportunity is terribly difficult.

First, the organization needs to identify developing trends, and then see the opportunities when those trend lines start to converge. Second, it must put in place a scaled-up management structure to support the expected growth. And finally the right talent has to be developed or acquired -- it's quite possible that the people who got you where you are today don't have the skills, training or experience to advance you up quickly enough to the next level.

All this must takes place even as the current business continues to do well and must be nourished.

How can this feat be accomplished? I like the words of Paul Nunes, the executive director of Accenture's Institute for High Performance. In essence, he says, don't depend on the usual suspects, the core performers in the organization, for answers or direction about the future. Rather look to those on the fringe, the people who are the least "trapped" by the gravity of the current business success.

"Pay attention to insights that arise from the periphery of the organization," he advises. "Make strategic planning a continuous exercise, but not a permanent process. High performers use all kinds of means and methods to create strategy, using all of them at once in an apparently chaotic way."

And that's why jumping the S curve is so difficult. Innovation is always harder work than maintenance. And for it to succeed, teams of people must be involved. "It's companies, not individuals, who jump S-curves," says Harvard Business School professor Frank Cespedes.

Does your organization make the big S-curve leaps or does it lose momentum during the flat but fat times?

(Photo by Flickr user indichick7, CC 2.0)