The Life Lesson of the Sigmoid Curve

The cyclic motion of everything present in the world is but natural. If we look around ourselves, we will see that most activities and processes in life occur in cycles.

This is not just true for Mother Nature but all artificial activities as well.

What may look as a linear path may have lots of curves and turns in reality.

Nature is full of examples that depict the cyclic way of life. Like for instance the seasons, the growth of animals and plants, and the coming of darkness at night or light in the morning – everything goes through a cycle of rising and fall over time.

The cyclic motion of life is inculcated in every aspect of the world.

From individuals to big business organizations, everything that goes around in activities can be represented through a graphical pattern of growth and decline.

Whether we are talking about our personal lives, our relationships with others, our businesses or careers, everything follows a cycle.

Even the history of large empires and countries will show a given pattern of rising and fall.

A very useful representation of the cyclic motion of the world at large is the sigmoid curve.

Applicable to almost every aspect of our lives, this curve can represent the growth and decline of life and business in gradual phases. It can be used for efficient and effective management of various activities and processes in our daily lives.

“This world and everything in this world is a Sigmoid Curve. Everything around us has its ups and downs. Nothing in this world can last forever”. –Schumacher.

What is a Sigmoid Curve?

A Sigmoid or sigmoidal curve is a mathematical function that represents the life cycle of various activities, processes, and things in a graphical manner.

It can be used for the description of a variety of elements like living organisms including plants and animals, organizations and institutions, countries and empires, human relationships like marriages and contracts, careers and businesses, products and services, and anything else that you can think of.

The sky is the limit.

You can sum up the story of life in this incredible curve.

The “S” Factor

You must now be thinking what the sigmoid curve must look like? Well, it is a simple “S” shaped graphical curve.

But the S seems to be in a lying position with the letter S stretched out. This curve or S-shaped graph can be classified into three sectional divisions.

Each section is representative of a given phase of the growth cycle.

The First Part of the “S” – Learning Phase

The learning Phase

When you look at the sigmoidal curve, this is the first section rising above the horizontal axis. As it gains height towards the vertical section you can see slow growth trends.

This is, therefore, representative of the initial phase where people are starting to learn.

Let us explain with some examples.

Consider that you have started a new business venture or a job. In the initial days, you have to put in lots of hard work and long hours.

But you feel that the outcome is small. For the first few years, you remain in a learning stage.

You learn about various business activities, their operative details, legal implications, the skills required and competitive market dynamics, and much more.

Even the mistakes you make are a valuable source of learning for you. Many people find this stage very difficult and tricky.

You often feel annoyed and frustrated because of the excessive work but very little results.

Another example can be of human relationships like marriage.

In the beginning, you have to try harder to learn about the person and his likes and dislikes.

You try to overcome your weaknesses and improve your strengths.

You need to give your marriage time and effort. It requires emotional and physical efforts.

You can also take the example of agricultural crops. In the initial phases, you have to clear the land, tend to the fields, and sow the seeds. This mostly takes a longer period of time.

But you do not get any results at this point.

The development has started but it is not visible through high growth trends.

People with a weak sense of motivation or less determination will tend to exit out in this very first phase.

Historical data also shows that many businesses and new ventures fail at this stage because of the larger amount of input required and the resultant low level of output.

Even when we talk about human nature, most people will get frustrated and impatient when they fail to get any reward or positive results from their hard work.

As a consequence, they may become less interested and lose focus on their goals.

Many extreme cases even see people exiting from the course of action they have selected.

But if we follow the sigmoidal function we will see that pushing through this stage of initial efforts and hard work is crucial for the growth trend to arise and go up.

What is needed at this stage of the sigmoid curve?

The answer is determination, hard work, visionary goals, and persistence.

You need to remain patient, calm yet motivated, and encouraged. You need to work your way through the next phase of the sigmoidal curve keeping in mind the rewards that await you in the future.

The Second Part of “S” – The Growth Phase

The growth phase of the Sigmoidal Curve

If you look at the graph of the sigmoid function, you will see that after the first part the graph rises in a sharp upward direction.

Although it is moving along the horizontal axis the steep is more gradient towards the vertical axis of the graph.

This is what makes the S of the sigmoid curve elongated in shape.

This is the part that represents the actual growth phase of the curve.

If you are considering the example of business ventures and jobs, then this phase shows the quick progression in terms of profits, revenues, promotions, customers, and branches.

It is categorized by enhanced production and making companies larger than what they initially started as.

Considering the example of the marriage relationship, this is the best phase of your life when you have kids, start a family, and reap the emotional and physical benefits of this relationship.

The same phase in the agricultural setting would depict the growth of the seeds into plants and maturing of the crop.

You can visibly see the change in the crop size and texture. Making you much more receptive towards being motivated and encouraged to do more.

What is needed at this stage?

According to expert analysis, the success of this phase is not just the growth benefits that you are already reaping but the longevity of the phase. The more you are able to stretch this peak or plateau of growth, the better you are.

So, what you need to elongate this phase is innovation, incremental changes, revision of goals, and bringing new things to life.

The Third Part of the “S” – The Decline Phase

The decline phase of the sigmoidal curve

The decline is an inevitable reality of life. Everything that goes up has to come down. This is also depicted in the sigmoidal curve. What you saw rising in the second stage will now be coming down back towards the horizontal axis.

In a business setup, this refers to the maturity stage of the product or strategy.

The profits that you were getting will start to decline if you do not bring about innovation or change in it.

In an unchanged environment, the growth will start to slow down and eventually start to decrease.

The same is the case with careers and jobs. If you do not improve your skills and grasp of the profession, you will start to become redundant in the job market.

The increments and promotions in your careers will start to deteriorate until others with better job skills start overtaking you and your growth starts to decline.

At this point you may be thinking about the selection of your career and whether you have made the right decision or not.

If your marriage becomes too old without any extra efforts or changes in life, you are sure to get frustrated and start moving away from your partner.

The relationship becomes fragile and loses its importance in life. You may be thinking of exiting from this relationship and leaving your partner.

Looking at the decline phase with respect to the agriculture example, if you let your crop mature and not harvest it at the right time, you will see it fall down and wilt.

This is dying phase of the crop.

What is needed at this stage of the Sigmoidal Curve?

At this you need to re-do your vision. You need to bring about not just incremental change but transformational change.

You need to revamp yourself and your attitudes towards life. Start a new way of doing business.

Rejuvenating your skills and start learning new activities is what is required to start the curve again.

Using the Sigmoid Curve to Gain Success

Using the Sigmoid Curve to Gain Success

If we study the lives and history of successful people, countries, and organizations, we will see that most of them kept a constant eye and ensured monitoring on their positions in the life cycle.

This means that to remain successful in life you need to keep a close watch on your position in the sigmoidal curve as well.

Most experts suggest that you elongate your plateau of success to reap the maximum benefits of growth.

But if you want to be successful in the longer run, you should look for ways to jump from one high peak of an existing curve to the learning phase of another new sigmoidal curve.

This means that instead to go into a decline phase, you move from the growth phase of the existing curve to the learning phase of new curve.

But easier said than done.

What may sound simple on graphical representation may not be very easy to achieve in real terms.

It is like when you are on top of the growth in a given business, you start learning a new one from the beginning.

But you must have heard the saying, “No Pain No Gain”.

You have to take this pain to reap exponential gains in the future.

Follow the Success Pattern

Follow the success pattern of the sigmoidal curve

We all know that decline represents negative growth and ultimately death of the thing that the sigmoidal S curve is representing.

But people can avoid this death outcome by finding an alternative to the third phase of the curve.

How? You may ask.

Well if we study the life history of successful people, organizations, and nations, we see a pattern of reinvention and innovation.

Whether you are talking about relationships, careers, business ventures, or national goals, there are always unending challenges and difficult times that can turn up without prior notice.

The struggle to overcome these challenges and hardships is characterized by the overlapping period between the first and second curve.

It is critical and difficult to find out when you should exit from the first curve and enter into the new one.

There are no specific factors and signs that can initiate this transformation jump. In fact, it is humanly not possible to come up with a set time or date to exit the ongoing sigmoidal curve of your life.

Be Prepared for the Sigmoidal Jump

Sigmoidal Curve provides a mechanism for building a new future while you keep maintaining your present.

The only best way to deal with this situation is to be prepared. This means that once you are reaching a peak in your career or business, you should start thinking about the next new curve.

At this point, you may still be lingering on to the first curve which may elongate more than expected.

But at least you will be prepared to make a jump or switch whenever needed.

Some experts argue that in this effort to remain prepared we may often lose sight of the existing environment or start the preparation process way too early.

The reason that you should remain prepared even if it is too early is that in later stages of the peak you may become less energetic and enthusiastic about the transformation to the next sigmoidal curve.

But if you have made the preparations and done your homework early, you can simply move on whenever you think is the right time.

Hence the chances of being successful in the switch are much higher.

The Much Needed Paradox

Wise are those who begin their second curve before the decline of the first curve. This is the right path through the much-needed paradox.

The sigmoidal curve is a derivation of the sigmoid function. It algebraically explains that in an uninterrupted environment, all growth-related curves will come to a plateau or peak at some point in life.

If this growth curve is interrupted right before reaching its top position, it will be a paradoxical action for a business entity. In reality, this may seem to a little odd and contradictory for the business goals, but it is what is considered as the “out of the box” action.

No one wants to interrupt the journey when everything seems to be going in the right direction and in an upward trend of growth.

But this is the point where a visionary leader differentiates from a manager.

He anticipates the upcoming changes and ensures their implementation right before the actual output starts to deteriorate.

The same principle applies to all other scenarios in the world.

Whether you talk about the personal lives of people, their businesses, their careers, or any other activity represented by the sigmoidal curve, the key to success is to maintain momentum in the growth trend.

The concept behind a sigmoid curve is that nothing in this world can continue to grow infinitely.

There is no such concept of growth forever in a given structure or environment.

This structure or environment may include all the given decisions that have been taken to move our lives or businesses on the growth path.

So, any change that we plan in the structure or environment to elongate the growth plateau, will be based on the same decisions taken.

Every assumption or decision made in a given setting is said to be valid for an average period of 18 months.

After this time they become ineffective or immaterial.

The growth cycles of the business organizations and even individuals are now coming to a point where they are much shorter and smaller due to the globalization and fast-changing trends of the world at large.

This means that it is essential for us to foresee the up-coming changes and future challenges to be more successful than others. It is important to train ourselves and our business employees and teams to enhance their anticipation capabilities.

They should be able to foresee the challenges and be proactive in not only bringing incremental changes but also whole transformations necessary to keep the growth curve in momentum in the upward trend.

What Have We Learnt

The sigmoid curve is often used by experts to illustrate the growth and life cycle journeys in various disciplines.

It can be used to express the human journey through life as well. Metaphorically the sigmoidal curve explains how you pass through different stages in your life.

Through our discussion in the above text, we have highlighted the various characteristics of the three stages of this curve and how we can use this curve for our overall improvement and success in life.

In the context of the sigmoidal curve, it would not be wrong to say, that the best approach in life is to keep enjoying the peak of your growth with continued cultivation and preparation for the second curve in life.

Prolonging the first peak is suitable for some time, but in the longer run, it is always a better choice to move on to something new.

Plan your exit before reaching your failure. You need to build a new house while living in the old one.