Nonlinear Development

Our minds seem to struggle with nonlinearity more than we should. Given how much of reality is actually nonlinear, it’s a wonder why we are still stuck with wanting things to be linear, and panicking when the progress bar is not moving as time moves forward. It is important to anticipate when further actions needs to be taken as things are not progressing well so it is important to track progress but being unable to appreciate non-linearity means we can misallocate attention and resources.

There were many occasions when I used to organise events and we review sign-up rates or “ticket sales” weekly as we approach the events. Of course things will always be slow at the start but then it tends to pick up, and even so, in a very uneven manner where it accelerates crazily a few days before the event. People tend to put off securing their places at events until closer to the date thinking they don’t want to commit their calendar so early on in time. But the management will be unduly worried about poor turnout at the events and activate disproportionately more resources to drive the numbers.

Being able to look at past figures and the growth curve from past experience helps but not perfectly because we tend to insert those ‘boost’ right before the late stages just before the sign-ups pick up wildly. So we can even think that those ‘boost’ actions (like placing more ads) actually works. Sometimes, they create so much awareness even after the event sell out that we have to turn people away. And appreciation for nonlinearity is important for any leader and one who is developing a vision for the future.

Because the journey there would not be linear and the assurance that ‘we will get there’ is not going to come from data, or your people, but from your commitment to your vision.