Beware the Bubble

In my line of work, I get to see and deal with a lot of clients trying to do something new, or trying to do something differently. Often times, despite the best of intentions, these companies fail miserably. They know where they are, they know where they want to be, and they even know what they need to do to get there, but they all forget about the dreaded bubble.

What’s the bubble? It’s basically the way you’ll operate while you’re midway between your starting point and your endpoint. When you’re at the starting point, you know how to function in your current state and you’re comfortable, and when you get to your endpoint, you’re enjoying the benefits of getting to the endpoint. But what do you do in the middle, when you have to behave differently but you’re still not seeing the benefits?

For companies, this can be a complicated thing to figure out. If you’re changing a manufacturing line, you might have to operate two sets of lines for a short time. If you’re changing a business process you’ll need to operate both processes while existing projects get wound down in the old process. If you’re launching an IT system you’ll run two sets of systems for a while. This is where companies screw it all up. Do you train your people to function in two different ways? Do you temporarily bring on new people to help deal with all the extra work? How do you pay for two sets of redundant costs if you’re talking about transitioning operations or IT systems? This last problem is sometimes referred to as the “bubble expense” — the cost bubble that comes up when you run two redundant systems/processes for a while.

But this blog isn’t actually about consulting or corporate life—it’s about you.

As we hit mid-February, we’re past the Halloween-Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Years-Valentine’s corridor of social life and we’re settling in as there isn’t another major holiday for a few months. Most of us probably set some New Year’s resolutions but might have already faltered on them too. As you’ve gotten back into your day-to-day life, you’ve probable been confronted by the bubble and that’s been holding you back from achieving what you planned. Luckily, there is a lot of 2016 left.

Let’s pick a common New Year’s resolution: losing weight. Every year millions of people either tacitly or expressly commit to getting in shape for the New Year. It’s a smart time to do it as the social elements of the last two months of the year have wound down. Lo and behold, you’re incredibly committed to the cause for a couple of weeks, but then it happens: you get a flat tire on the way home from work, the kids get sick, or have a rough week at work.

Welcome to the bubble. While you’re between point A and point B, you don’t have the benefits of your new healthy lifestyle (having that rocking body, and maybe setting a PR for your half-marathon time), but you do have to give up the creature comforts you used to have (e.g.: a plate of wings and a few beers after a rough day at work). We can all be well-behaved, eat well and go to the gym when there are no surprises, but its these moments that will ultimately decide your fate.

All of life’s surprises that have kept you from achieving your goals before are going to continue to happen– flat tires, sick kids, fire drills at work, etc. The better you plan for them, the more prepared you’ll be able to handle the bubble. When I work with my consulting clients, I often see the best of intentions (sometimes weeks/months of planning) derailed by one emergency. The instant that panic sets, the immediate reaction is retract to business as usual.

Much like the corporate world, your ability to succeed will be determined by how you handle the bubble, and the better you plan for them and accept them, the more likely you’ll have the mental strength to push through and succeed.

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02 2016

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  1. Anand Atre #

    Great insight Shailesh! You highlight a major reason why it is so hard to make change, big or small, stick and have a chance to become permanent.

  2. Srushti Ingale #

    Great article Uncle Shail!! I can so relate to it..!

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