Where Are You On The Sigmoid Curve? | Tim Tolan | Healthcare Blogs Skip to content Skip to navigation

Where Are You On The Sigmoid Curve?

October 4, 2009
| Reprints
Last week I met with my business coach Ron McNutt to help develop a 3-year strategy for the next phase of growth in our search firm. With the HCIT market heating up, I thought now would be an ideal time to do a deep dive on our methodology and process before this market experiences the explosive growth everyone feels is imminent. On Friday, my associate and I met with my coach for the first of several meetings, using his well developed evaluation process. The first meeting was awesome!
I learned how applicable this process is for organizations as well as for individuals. The concepts and the assessment he uses are incredibly valuable for any executive that wants to take their game to the next level. We went through a SWOT analysis exercise - which I have done many times during my career. We discussed strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that exist today - in detail and had a lengthy discussion covering all four categories. Lots of valuable information was exchanged. We then developed an action plan and a multi-faceted approach to make big changes organizationally and individually.
We also had a discussion and another evaluation I feel every CIO in the US should conduct both individually and with their staff on a regular basis. This was a discussion on the Sigmoid Curve (or S curve). Wow – what a wake-up call for me both as a business owner and as a HCIT professional! The S curve is essentially the letter S lying on its side. Every phase begins at the high point of the S on the left, declines through a learning phase, rises through a growth phase, levels off at the top, and then declines again. Peter Drucker wrote multiple articles on the Sigmoid Curve dating back to the mid- 1970’s. He thought using the Sigmoid Curve was an outstanding tool to better understand the natural life cycle of a product, an organization, a relationship or an individual.


The Learning Phase probably depicts the period of time when you first took the helm as CIO. There was probably a tremendous amount of excitement about your new role as you had much to learn in order to make your mark on the organization. This phase, full of risk factors, allowed you to push the envelope and initiate multiple new ideas and processes. Some of your ideas worked well - while others fell by the wayside. But you were probably in your element!


The Growth Phase is where you likely had the most fun in your career. This is the time when you and others felt you could do no wrong. It was all about high energy and pure enthusiasm as you launched new idea after new idea and experienced tremendous success. Sometimes the success, if not kept in check, gives us a false sense of security as you we all get “caught up in the moment”. This is especially true if adjustments are not made along the way.

The Decline Phase is the most challenging and one you want to avoid at all costs if you can. You will know you are in a state of decline the day you wake up and feel unfulfilled in your current role. You begin to challenge and question your decisions, why you are there and you quickly become bored at the mere thought of getting though another day. It’s painful. The energy and enthusiasm are gone and all of the sudden you find yourself wondering what it would be like if you could do something different. Maybe it’s a new career? It could be time to find a new organization? A fresh start – just anything to challenge you - once again. Or, you can stay where you are and re-invent yourself again and again. Your optimum strategy should be to constantly re-invent yourself and your department on a regular basis.

Plan on building a new S curve during the Growth Phase - and start learning again - before the curve takes a nosedive into the Decline Phase. That will hurt! Make a commitment to yourself and to your organization always be in a constant state of learning. It is the key to avoiding the very uncomfortable last phase. Trust me you don’t want to be there – ever!

So – where are you on the Sigmoid Curve?




Thanks for this great post. I believe I identified the Sigmoid Curve before I knew what it was called. I always felt that a particular job had specific phases. In the first phase, a new position is (often wonderfully) overwhelming, as you try and understand how things are done, where everything is and form ideas about how YOU want to do things differently.

In the second, phase, you are also completely engaged as you make your changes and (hopefully) have a positive impact on the products or services in question.

The third phase is definitely where trouble can creep in, if it's not identified and dealt with. In this phase you can wind up simply doing what you've already mastered over and over and over. (The HCI 100 again! Ugh).

Realizing where you are in the curve is helpful, and shaking things up is a good remedy. If switching jobs isn't the answer (as this is the most drastic solution), I suggest looking at all projects and procedures afresh, revamping projects and (probably) taking everything up a notch in the process.

As good as you think everything is (after you've made your changes) things can always be done better, and better and better. I believe it's certainly in our own power to get that curve going in the right direction again.

You are correct. It's all about learning and "drinking from a fire hose" when you first engage in a new job. You make your mark (and hopefully a difference) phase 2 - and then it's time to re-invent yourself or face a downward spiral. The key, as you point out is to know that it is within our control to make changes and find ways to enjoy what we do. Changing jobs can sometimes be the answer if you are not in the right environment to grow. But it is not the only answer.


Great insight! In thinking about your take, and Drucker's, it occurred to me that while we're riding our career macro Sigmoid curves, we're also along for the ride on multiple micro S curves, as well, chronicling the many relationships that take place w/in the larger scheme of things. No wonder life can sometimes be a bit complicated. Fascinating stuff!

Thanks for continuing to make us think, especially on a Saturday!