Eleven minutes after takeoff, the pilot announced we were approaching Mach 1, the speed of sound. I tightened my grip on Concorde’s leather armrests in anticipation of the sonic boom produced by breaking the sound barrier.
Only minutes later, as we reached Mach 2 at an altitude of 55,000 feet, I realized that sonic booms are heard by those we leave in our wake, not by those of us creating the impact. Looking out the cabin window, I could see the curvature of the earth. From up high, the commercial jet we passed below suddenly appeared to be flying backwards. And as I looked up, my heart leaped: judging from the intense, infinite indigo blue we were flying near the edge of space.
Although it felt like we had just taken off, the pilot announced that we were approaching our destination and starting our descent. Traveling at supersonic speed while sipping champagne has a way of distorting the fabric of space-time. I had just crossed the Atlantic in under 3.5 hours with professional athletes, celebrities, and the crème de la crème of the London and New York financial and business worlds.
During my days with British Airways, I invested in this developmental opportunity not because I had a problem to solve or needed to travel from point A to B, but rather for the learning experience. There was only one class on board this aircraft: Successful. Twiddling with the silver Concorde-branded Cross pen I received as an in-flight gift, I wondered how many of these passengers would actually hold on to their success in years to come.
Having worked with successful people throughout my career, I’ve often observed critical changes in their behavior once they reach the tipping point i.e., that magical moment when all the work and effort expended in one’s career or business begins accruing financial and other benefits.
For example, they might put their businesses on cruise control or allows their careers to become sidetracked by tangents. These actions, which reduce their field of vision by dropping their perspectives from 55,000 feet to perhaps 10,000 feet, commonly are triggered by a complacency generated either by long-standing success or the mistaken belief that the currently favorable conditions signify that the tide has changed permanently. However, to paraphrase Churchill, failure is not fatal and success is not final: what is done can just as easily become undone.
Perhaps you have experienced the metaphorical change in altitude and perspective that accompany a decision to downgrade from traveling at supersonic speed to flying at the speed of a jet, or you know someone who has. The difference is monumental.
Recently I came across an entrepreneur who had experienced this loss of altitude and perspective when a client introduced us. “Ideally, what is it you are trying to accomplish?” I asked. “Actually, I’m in a real sweet spot so I don’t have any goals right now,” he replied. “That’s really wonderful.” I said. “So what’s it going to take for you to get to the next level?” He stared back at me.
Successful people sometimes fall into the complacency trap i.e., they revert to an evolutionary approach to their careers or businesses. That is, they settle back and allow things to happen on their own over time until they attract challenge, tragedy or humbling circumstances to jolt them back on track. In doing so, they unwittingly arrest their self-growth. However, there is a way to avoid this outcome: take a transformative approach instead. By that I mean exploit the momentum already gained by constantly raising the bar, remaining disciplined and focusing on what really matters.
Here are three musts for those who wish to continue to fly at supersonic altitudes by engaging in continuous transformation:
Adopt an evergreen mindset. As long as we’re green we’re growing; once we mature, we decay and die. Many people view investing in self-growth as a remedy for reducing pain or solving a problem. Consider this fact based on the laws of physics: the fastest way to reach an altitude of 60,000 feet is from 40,000 feet, not from the runway. The most efficient way to develop potential, reach the next level, and maximize achievement is to keep raising the bar to stimulate self-growth.
Cultivate a master’s awareness. Crisis is a blessing and blessing is a crisis. Although crisis as a blessing in disguise is already part of the collective consciousness, successful people are astute enough to recognize the wisdom of the second part of the adage. That is, blessings contain the seeds of crisis, such as those that are able to blossom as a result of complacency. In actuality, success represents only one element of the equation. Those who cultivate a master’s level of awareness are able to see success and failure concurrently. Because they recognize the folly of buying into one at the expense of the other, they remain relentlessly vigilant. By cultivating the awareness that success and failure are constants that coexist, over time you accelerate the velocity of your achievement by becoming less reactive to external circumstance and more proactive to mitigating risk.
Nail your giant why. Uncovering the reason why you do what you do allows you to gain altitude and graduate from success to significance. You finally make sense of the world and life, and see the bigger picture. Equally, your why is that ballast that keeps you grounded, centered and focused. It induces you to subordinate pain and pleasure to a higher purpose so you are able to resist the temptation of becoming sidetracked. Moreover, once you grasp the essence of your drive, the myriad of ways your value can manifest fuels self-growth and innovation that last a lifetime. Metaphorically speaking, you continue to travel by Concorde rather than by jet.
In short, an evolutionary approach to your business holds you back; a transformative approach catapults you forward. You cannot wait for evolution to take its course if you want to succeed, or to sustain your success. When you can see beyond the curvature of the earth, keep a balanced perspective on life’s events, and continue to invest in your self-growth, you’ve got all you need to live the good life by transforming your self and business as you and the world continue to change.
If you find yourself flying by jet when you’d rather be on the Concorde, contact me for an upgrade.