The Sigmoid Curves in Business
The logo of BDC International has been designed around a very special philosophy that encapsulates the very essence and purpose of the business.
A Sigmoid curve is a tilted S-shaped curve that resembles trends in the life-cycle of many living things and phenomena. The word “Sigmoid” means resembling the letter “S” or the lower-case Greek letter sigma.. It has a base building/introduction phase, followed by a growth phase, then a maturing phase and finally a declining phase. In short we start slowly, we experiment and falter, we then grow rapidly, then wax and wane. This is the life-story of flowers, red blood cells, trees, men and empires.
The utilisation of the curve, shows how all of us go through a period of wondering whether any enterprise is going to work. Life cycles used to take decades to unfold. The time frames today have shrunk dramatically and the accelerating pace of change affects all activities. Traditional milestones and measurements create a time lag where often we can only see the downturn long after it has occurred. The accelerating pace of change shrinks every Sigmoid curve. The inertia of individuals and organisations also creates a significant lag in reaction and response time. Typically, you are almost never where you think you are on the curve, and almost always much farther along than you would care to acknowledge. The next ‘life’ beyond the curve is that of living the paradox of change. The obvious desired point at which to start a new cycle is before the plateau, where you have the time, energy, and resources to get the new launch through the early stages of exploration and adjustment before the first curve dips downwards. Obvious yes, but not easy. That is precisely the point that all indicators are pointing to continued growth and success. Everything is fine – the formula works – it would be crazy to tamper with proven success.
The problem with change is that the real impetus to change course only happens when the downslide is well underway and you’re looking at a disaster if you continue on the same track. At this point it is unfortunate that any effort to indeed make significant changes will be a formidable challenge. Unfortunately it is not easy to know when the first section of the curve will end and the decline section will begin.
Long-lasting organisations have to find ways to start second curves before the first curves peak. That’s hard to do. It means recognising, in the midst of a run of success, that it can’t last forever and that paradoxically now is the time to start investigating alternatives.
Today, more than ever, the truth is that nothing is static: processes, products, services, everything is changing and is in a constant state of flux. Today’s best operating practice is tomorrow’s dinosaur. How many of the In Search of Excellence companies are still benchmarks for their industries? As John Harvey Jones says, There is never a perfect business simply one that is temporarily better than its competitors.
Today’s leaders have to blend continuity, the first curve, with innovation, the second curve. That, in turn, means finding ways for two very different cultures to live together and to value each other, because each needs the other if either is to survive. The second curve needs the resources of the first to support its experiments, and the first curve needs the second if it is to have any future at all. Sadly, this commonality of interests is not always perceived by either party.
The companies that survive longest are the ones that work out what they uniquely can give to the world.
Change is always difficult. There are many people for whom the present is comfortable, who would rather not change at all. There has to be confidence in the future. An innate inner belief, that you are in some sense meant to be here, that you can leave the world a little different in a small way is essential.
Change, growth and innovation are represented throughout the DNA of BDC international and is depicted beautifully by the Sigmoid curve and the point of innovation within the logo.