Growing is Hard – But Not Because Why You Think


My one-year-old daughter, Maya, is learning to walk. She first tries to walk from observing other kids, strategically mapping out the biomechanics in her head (so we think!). Once rehearsed in her head, she attempts to approach walking with what worked from her crawling days: leaping forward to cover as much distance as she can before the inevitable fall on her face. Her timid skepticism has converted to growing frustration as her first few tries resulted in painful face planks. Despite the failed attempts, she works up the courage to continue to try the same way – but harder, as if she expected different results.


When Maya’s initial attempts to walk became too painful and frustrating, she knew she had to try something significantly different. That is, taking that leap of faith of balancing on her feet and feeling the sensation of her muscles holding – and keeping – her upright. Of course this is new and scary, as it requires her to build and access a different set of muscles than she’s used to.


When Maya has her footing, she carefully senses the environment around her to determine how to best proceed (whether to continue or give in). Camie, her doggie sister, often brushes by to play and causes Maya to lose her balance. Maya quickly learned not to make very many attempts at walking when Camie is nearby.


Over time, Maya learned to trust her own abilities to balance on her feet, and took advantage of her doggie sister’s naptime to start taking a few wobbly steps forward. Despite a few triumphal steps, Maya is still far away from her first marathon. Even though the progress is small and incremental, the difference is that she now approaches each of her attempts with a big smile on her face! She finds learning exciting and challenging, and seems eager to do more of it!


In observing how Maya learns to walk, it dawned on me that this is what we go through as we learn new skills and adapt to new environments.


Just like Maya, we lean in on skills that we already have and use judgments we have developed from our past experiences to help us navigate new situations. While this approach works at times, it is limiting especially in rapidly changing environments. We try hard and brute force our way through with old skills and mindsets. When things don’t work, we try even harder to exert more control. This vicious cycle yield not so positive outcomes.


As renowned leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith points out: “What got you here won’t get you there.” A true learning mindset and culture is no longer a ‘good to have’ but rather a ‘must have’ for today’s organization.


At Four Bridges Advisory, a SF-based growth consultancy, we work with toddler organizations to build bench strength and organizational infrastructures to scale. We work with teenager organizations to discover the next audacious passion/vision and create a clear and unified roadmap to get there. We work with adult organizations to pinpoint new avenues of growth and introduce an innovative spirit to their infrastructure.


In the past decade working with 40+ companies, we’ve identified that the secret sauce to successful and sustainable growth is the continual pursuit of becoming a learning organization. Learning organizations are positioned for growth as they continuously reinvent themselves as the market and competitive dynamics shift. They are resilient, adaptable, and flexible with whatever comes at them. They are adaptive and agile while relentlessly building new capacities.


A learning organization facilitates the learning of its members and continuously transforms itself. It constantly challenges itself on bigger and more audacious vision. It embraces and accepts that leap of faith is necessary, while diligently learning and mastering new skills, and celebrate successes with incremental progress.


Without a doubt, technologies and innovations are constantly challenging status quo. Innovations will continue to leapfrog and disrupt old business models at exponential speed. Customer consumption and purchasing habits are forever changing. The only way to thrive in rapidly changing environment is to become a learning organization. And just like our own evolution (and revolution) from infant to toddler, teenager to young adult, growing pains are part of the process and absolutely necessary for transformative growth!


After all, it is how we choice to face off these growing pains are what will determine our future. Are you and your company to be an active participant, or better yet, drivers, of change? Click here to find out.




Hsiang-Yi Lin is an organization strategist and a change engineer with Four Bridges Advisory, Inc. She coaches leaders and consults organizations to help them thrive in complex times.