Navigating Inflection Points

I often say that as soon as business starts feeling easy, an inflection point is coming.

“When you are amenable to discomfort, you grow.”

woman reading map. Like navigating inflection points.
What is an inflection point? In math, it’s the point where the curvature of a line changes from concave to convex. In business, it’s much the same—no matter how hard you work or how successful you are, inevitably you will reach a point when what got you there won’t take you any further, and you need to change direction.

This could mean learning new things, changing how you operate, taking on a bigger team, or just doing business differently.

Inflection points are like signals for you to lean into your resilience and resourcefulness. The trouble is, if you’re not careful, these points can sneak up on you. Maybe you notice a slow decline in sales, or you see a new trend emerging in your field and realize you have some catching up to do. Suddenly, what used to work isn’t as effective as it once was. You may feel uncomfortable and uncertain about what to do next.

Luckily, some simple principles can help you navigate change, build resilience, and foster a learning mindset to ease you through inflection points.

  1. Take stock. It may feel counterintuitive, but usually, the first step is to sit back and contemplate. Often, approaching an inflection point, you will hear that small voice in your head, the one that keeps you up at night, that notices things are either changing or about to. This voice is one of wisdom, so don’t ignore it! Tune into it in whatever way works best for you—walk in nature, take a few days off, or go to a yoga class. Often, stepping away from screens and making space to think works best. Getting lost in a puzzle (crossword, sudoku, or jigsaw) can help too. Allowing your mind to wander opens up creativity so you can think more expansively.

  3. Plan. Inflection points often start off feeling like a grind, and then, once you tip over the edge into action, you feel as if you’re running a race. So, before you get to that point, pause and formulate a plan. Advance warning: you will feel like you don’t have time for this, but it is exactly the time to pause, whether for a few minutes or a few hours. A plan will help you define a rhythm for where you are going and prioritize the next steps with clarity so you’ll move forward faster.

  5. Hold the big picture daily. Taking stock and planning are not one-and-done endeavors. Regularly thinking big about any problem you’re tackling keeps you nimble and builds resilience. Schedule time at the end of each day to focus on the big picture, review your plans and next steps, and keep aligning those plans with the big picture. With this process, you’ll want to always be adjusting and refining. Additionally, be sure to communicate with those who are dependent on the plan—you don’t want to reach a big milestone and find you’ve left the team a few steps back.

Some inflection points are grueling reminders of how difficult it is to overcome certain hurdles. But each offers learning that can be applied to the next. Sandra (Sandy) Stosz, leadership coach and author of

“Breaking Ice & Breaking Glass,” joined the Coast Guard about two years after the Coast Guard Academy had opened to women. She started out at the bottom, as a cadet, in a four-year college program, and eventually became the first female graduate of the Coast Guard Academy to achieve the rank of vice admiral in the US Coast Guard.

When you’re at sea, Sandy explained, you are tired and wet, cold and hungry—and scared. But when you are amenable to discomfort, you grow. “Every time you take on something more challenging that you have to reach for,” she said, “you’re standing on a solid foundation. ”

Sure, you’re going to fail here and there, but your foundation will not erode from under you.