Skip to main content

How transformation/change could be hard - an analogy from Life


The illusion of steady change


Most changes are gradual. Or it appears to be, as you read stories and narratives about successful people. Be it successful CEOs, scientists, artists, startup founders, you name it -- almost every one who has reached a state of success, it seems, has had a steady run of successes.

We want to believe that these fine folks transformed their lives because they worked hard,  had talent, or had help, or many other things -- and it was simply effort and reward.


But we all know this is not true. Otherwise, we'd be doing more of what we do best, every day.

What is it that can explain great changes? It is a transformation. Yes, it has gradual bits and habits thrown in. But in the end, they were ready to transform themselves. They were ready to re-work their brains, bodies and life into a new combination.

Example from the chemistry of Life


There is an example in Life that may shed some light. Treat this as an analogy, but it has some lessons.

To illustrate, we start with a picture. Not any picture, but a specific simple diagram.

If a picture is worth 1000 words, this one's worth 1000 pictures:




What is This?

It is a simple diagram showing the energy thresholds of an isomer in transition from one stable state (1) to another (2). This is explained in the book "What is Life?" by Erwin Schrodinger. The book was seminal in many ways. In this context, I want to focus on this one diagram.

A little background:

An "isomer" is a name for all the 3-D arrangement of the same atoms, of the same molecule. Isomers are the norm in complex organic chemicals that compose Life.

This diagram shows the energy required for some class of isomers to go from one stable arrangement of atoms(1), to another stable arrangement(2). The substances may sometimes have different chemical properties. The key is that they don't get from here to there by a steady climb. There is an intermediate hill (3) that needs to be crossed before they go from (1) to (2) or the other way around.

This is important and worth repeating -- they need to get to a very unstable, and high energy state, before they click into a new form.

Why Isomers? What does it have to do with me?


Stable, lasting change is hard because it is not linear. There is an energy wall. We need to put in way more effort to get to the next stable configuration than simply getting from here to there.

This, to me, is a metaphor for many efforts in various forms. Learning, breaking old habits, projects, team building, transformation, integration of new ideas, migrations of organizations, changes in infrastructures, moving to a higher performing plateau - there are are all simple and linear in concept.

But they need an extraordinary hill climb. Not the steady climb, not the sisyphean repetitive climb. Here, the climb is much higher than what is necessary. The goal is to reach a point where you get downhill to the better tomorrow and a better normal.

This image has transformed the way I think about work and change. It is always the hardest times when we have to push a little harder.




Popular posts from this blog

Why PI is not 4, math is great, and other mysteries.

The other day, I found myself with an interesting problem of approximating a circle with the enclosing square which seems to prove pi = 4.

The paradox was forwarded by a most interesting puzzle collector, Surajit Basu, a friend and life long inspiration. See Sonata for Unaccompanied Tortoise for why!



Here is the offending paradox:

























This is an example of how counterintuitive questions can be answered with a little calculus.

The key is to realize that no matter how closely we approximate the circle, the orthogonal lines of the approximation formed by inverting the square corners will never actually be tangential to the circle.

Note carefully that as you get closer to 90 degrees, the horizontal line is much longer than the vertical. Same goes with the approximation at 0 and 180 - the vertical line is much larger than the horizontal component.

If we take a quadrant of the circle - let's say the top left quadrant, moving counter clockwise from top to left -  we can imagine that each inf…

Ambition vs. Fear.

Most important things in life don't come to us. Nor do we get them by seeking/wanting them. It comes from letting go of the unimportant stuff.

The hardest part is letting go of the tendency to take the world as is. This is a habit of our past successes.

But success is not a destination, it is a STOP sign. You stop, wait, and move on. Too often, we are paralyzed by success into the fear of the new. We stall on the road to a new life. We need to break our inertia and move.

Our thoughts and thought habits are hard to break. But that is where we have to spend the most energy. Thoughts are always competing strands  - of worries of the past and anxieties for the future. For some of us, they are cleanly separated into rivers that nurture every place they travel. For most, they are like the torrents and trickles -- competing, rushing somewhere, stopping completely elsewhere, always mixing, morphing, competing, winning, losing.

Our thoughts are the potential difference between the two pole…

Meta leadership

Leadership The word leadership has a rather large spread and reach. It can mean a diverse set of behaviors. It can explain a wide variety of positive outcomes. It can effect a wide scope of results - from moving individuals within one's sphere of direct interaction, to moving an entire world far beyond one's direct influence. 
At its core, leadership is an attitude for influencing and executing transformation. It is a skill that results in exponential outcomes with a linear quantum of resource: Oneself. In this process, you leverage many sources both within, and outside, clear lines of control - resources, people,  organizations, domains of expanding knowledge, mental models, systems for doing things.

In today's world, leadership is probably the most important skill at every level of activity one wants to be successful at. This is simply because we are now connected to potentially billions of people within the palm of our hands, or within the reach of a keyboard.

Countles…