Insights – Smart Growth: Notes from the book

30th July 2022

Posted in: Insights

Companies don’t disrupt, people do.

And those people that achieve the most are those willing to adopt the practice of deliberate self innovation.


Whitney Johnson’s book explains how the best people and organisation’s navigate through the S curve of learning to grow yourself, grow your people and grow your company.

The process for the learning follows the S curve of learning:

1. Launch

a) Explorer phase:

The explorer phase is the first part of launch phase and this is where you consider your destination and do your homework before committing to a particular learning process.  This helps to minimise risks and optimise opportunities.

In this phase learning is slow and uncomfortable because

  • Time seems to expand when doing something new- as brain is busy recording new memories
  • Making decisions is taxing- cognitive overload (because our prefrontal cortex has limited capacity)
  • Progress can go unnoticed (because our limbic system creates cortisol and adrenaline and we tend to over emphasise the negative)

Understanding this can help reduce stress.

Questions we should to ask to determine if project or pathway is worth following:

  1. Is it achievable?
  2. Is it easy to test?  Start small
  3. Is it familiar enough to navigate but novel enough to promote growth ie most idea is something that is 85% familiar 15% new.
  4. Does it fit my identity?
  5. Is the reward worth the cost?
  6. Does it align with my values?   (remembering that our stated values might differ from our shadow values)
  7. Is this my why?


b) Collector phase:

This collector stage is where we collect qualities data and experience to determine if we should continue to pursue the s curve or not. 

Collectors are curious and observant, open to learning and suggestion, questing and questioning.

Those with a growth mindset accept that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence ie everyone can get better if they work at it.

“All things are difficult before they are easy” –  Thomas Fuller

Collecting data continues to be slow and it is important to become a collector of feedback.


Childhood imprinting can impact our decisions in learning – we should ask ourselves:

1 Role- what role did I play in my family’s social order

2 Secrets- what secrets did my family keep and how did that effect me.

3 Beliefs- what were beliefs and unspoken rules in my family

4 Values – what were the important values in our family

5 Boundaries- what were family attitudes to rules, legal behaviour, promise making


Managing teams through Launch is through support and feedback.


2. Sweet spot

a) Accelerator phase:

Once we have entered the sweet spot there are fewer gaps in knowledge and we have more idea of what the gaps are making progress faster.

Neural plasticity means that there is a physical change in our brain when we learn – the rate at which our synaptic network grows is a function of how often we do thing that challenge our brain. New learning takes extra effort and translates into faster neural growth.

Motivation and change in confidence are hallmarks of this phase.


CAR acronym can be used:

  • Competence – Things are easy but not so much you are bored or complacent.
  • Autonomy – We have the choice and power to make decisions.
  • Relatedness – We recognitise that we are interconnected and that we belong (shared identity and familiarity with team members).


b) Metamorph phase:

By this stage, belief has evolved and there is a change in thought process from “I can do this” to “I am this”

Focusing on the positive activates our parasympathetic nervous system which frees up resources to help grow neurons.

When we focus on the negative our fight or flight is triggered and heart rate rises leaving less resources.

Without sufficient focus we won’t complete metamorphosis.  Distraction is our nemesis.


Even short distractions divert from our purpose. Ways to avoid distraction

  • Meditation helps engage in mindfulness which can help us stay in the moment and avoid distraction.
  • Managing triggers by thinking of things you are grateful for now and considering how would your aspirational future self react.3.
  • Stay and eat healthy
  • Learn to say no
  • Pursue optimised tension (eustress)

Managing people in the sweet spot focuses on helping them stay in flow by coaching them on what to prioritise and ensure we don’t take them for granted but that we help them focus on their perception of where they are in their growth cycle.


3. Mastery

a) Anchor Phase

At this stage ease replaces effort, skills are anchored within us and tasks become effortless and automatic.

Further progress is slow.

In this stage we need to:

  • Pause and reflect
  • Ensure we continue to celebrate – we should celebrate when we identify a new skill, when we remember to perform it (launch) when we perform it (sweet spot) and when we finish performing (mastery).
  • Prepare for the next curve

Perfectionism is the enemy of smart growth.


b) Mountaineer phase:

This is the pinnacle stage of learning where we take in the view, smartly observe where growth was slow, where it was faster and how it is coming to an end

The death zone- learning is like oxygen – ie when learning diminishes so do we.

The thrill of the climb – you should ensure you plan your next climb before you stagnate, fall or get pushed

Free fall- there is always risk of being pushed – ie a move to a new s-curve maybe forced or outside of your control.


Managing at this stage is reminding:

  • Not all summits are reached
  • We may need to descend to ascend again
  • Create don’t compete



Growing an organisation is like baking bread. Whether you lead a team of ten or ten thousand, You are in the position to make people rise.

  1. Start with raw ingredients- hiring for potential.
  2. The raw material needs to be worked on – As people grow challenge them, appreciate them.
  3. Once the have risen, before they collapse- Give them something new to do.




The environment in which people exist is vital in the learning process.

A stagnant pond can become covered with scum and algae which can be toxic- Human ecosystems can have the same toxic element ie people who poison the environment with behaviour and bad conduct.


Wise decisions about who we work for, work with or partner with helps us create our ecosystem where all participants can grow.

Collaboration and contributing to the ecosystem is key!

Teachers, parents, coaches, colleagues, partners and managers can all be (or not) smart growth leaders.


It is a common statement that people are business greatest asset when in fact it’s the relationships between people which are the greatest asset.   It is how a team works together, defuse conflict, forgive each other and how skill sets compliment deficiencies.

Accountability is something we need but it should not be used as a weapon against people.


To ensure the best environment conduct a Culture Audit

Conducive– to what extent does my team have the resources it needs? – does the environment motivate the best work and do they have access to tools, training and the right people.

Connective- how healthy are the relationships amongst members of team? do people feel as if they are seen at work, that their manager cares about them and as if they are contributing to the mission .

Resilience-  making mistakes become opportunities to learn. – are we able to use reframing ie why did failure occur, what process can be improved,  can we identify wrong roles and are unrealistic expectations to blame,

Nurturing – how well do my team encourage growth of individual members?



Author: Donna Bruce