Productivity and GTD

Kanter's Law: Everything Looks like a Failure in the Middle

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
“Those who master change persist and persevere.” ~ Rosabeth Moss Kanter
Failure in the middle

Every time you are learning something new, developing a new habit or running a big project, there are always moments in which thoughts invade your mind. It looks like you don’t move on, you don’t feel comfortable and your goal seems too far away.

If we could describe people’s emotional state during the realization of a project, it would be through a graphic with the form of a smile (or a U). At the beginning and at the end the emotion tends to be very positive. At the beginning you are optimist and have hope, you have decided to start something that you believe will be very interesting (otherwise you wouldn’t have done it, right?) And when you are approaching the end you come to be full of confidence, since the goal is very close.

According to Rosabeth Moss Kanter, professor at Harvard Business School , “in the middle, everything looks like a failure" (Kanter’s law). Everyone feels motivated by the beginnings and obviously, we love happy endings, but it is in the middle where the hard work happens.

In the middle, we all have doubts. This feeling is principally produced because important changes are not developed the way we would like it to, lineal and smooth. The changes that remain usually involve two steps forward and one step back.

In addition, it’s easy to feel that when we are in the middle, we are very far away from the expectations we had made. Unexpected events take place as well as deviations. What it had been estimated in regards to the need of resources appear to not be enough. It’s then when despondency appears.

This is why it’s important to fully understand that failure is a necessary part of change, because there will be periods of confusion in which the temptation to abandon will be great. In companies, in any work team, and individually, it’s very important to feed and promote a growth mindset that will help us to consider failure as a natural part of the process.

Nowadays, for many companies what’s important is still the outcomes. However, it’s more important to be optimistically predisposed to failure and focus on learning. Mastery of any matter will not come overnight and, with that clear, there are more chances of success.

Are you facing a new challenge and cannot manage to control it? Not trying anymore can be considered a failure, but if you resist and make the necessary adjustments to avoid the obstacles that may appear, probably you will reach the end. Above all, remember the reason that took you to start this change.

If you are a new (or not so new) GTD practitioner, it’s very likely that you will have to face small failures — if you haven’t already done it. It’s very normal to fall off the wagon a few times before mastering the methodology. It’s part of the learning process and this is how you need to perceive it.

2 comments

8bb2c9a97155fbcffcc91ca918d103c7
Commented over a year ago Cyrus

I have suffered through Kanter’s law many, many times. Enthusiasm and optimism are powerful fuels that keep us going and driven. As time wears them away, we are left with the stark reality of our situation, which sometimes feels like we are gazing upon a vast valley of bleached bones.

The cure, however, is to simple stick to the tasks, hold fast to the plan, and finish the project. That will get anyone up and out of the "funk".

On a personal note, I hope the FT development team is not at the bottom of the "U". They are poised to provided the premier web-based GTD application. This is a tremendous feat and boon for everyone. Keep going. The effort is worth it.

8bb2c9a97155fbcffcc91ca918d103c7 Cyrus

I have suffered through Kanter’s law many, many times. Enthusiasm and optimism are powerful fuels that keep us going and driven. As time wears them away, we are left with the stark reality of our situation, which sometimes feels like we are gazing upon a vast valley of bleached bones.

The cure, however, is to simple stick to the tasks, hold fast to the plan, and finish the project. That will get anyone up and out of the "funk".

On a personal note, I hope the FT development team is not at the bottom of the "U". They are poised to provided the premier web-based GTD application. This is a tremendous feat and boon for everyone. Keep going. The effort is worth it.

Fcb879f1bc70aa0f661b842011f280fb
Commented over a year ago Francisco Sáez

Hi Cyrus,

In an entrepreneurial project of the size of FacileThings, the emotions curve has rather the form of a serpent. There are many ups and downs, and you have to overcome all of them.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Fcb879f1bc70aa0f661b842011f280fb Francisco Sáez

Hi Cyrus,

In an entrepreneurial project of the size of FacileThings, the emotions curve has rather the form of a serpent. There are many ups and downs, and you have to overcome all of them.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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