Mastering The Art of Transition

The only certainty is uncertainty. Life is in a constant state of flux, never stagnant and always changing. Yet we crave security and permanence. Jiddu Krishnamurti describes this paradox best “we all want a state of permanency; we want certain desires to last for ever, we want pleasures to have no end. We dig a little hole and barricade ourselves in it with our families, with our ambitions, our cultures, our fears, our gods, our various forms of worship, and there we die, letting life go by — that life which is impermanent, constantly changing, which is so swift, which has such enormous depths, such extraordinary vitality and beauty”.

The irony, of course, is that in seeking permanence we miss the subtleties, the small but powerful moments which color life with character and depth. But there is a deeper, more insidious consequence to this search. This epiphany dawned on me during a pitch meeting of all places.

For those of you unfamiliar with the business world, a pitch, is essentially when an entrepreneur presents their business idea to would be investors. (Think Shark Tank). In this case I was the entrepreneur. Pitching is a form of performance art. It is not just the content of your pitch but it’s delivery that determines its effectiveness. Each performance is catered to its audience. In order to effectively pitch, one must gauge the audiences reaction in real time and pivot if necessary.

So here I was, mid pitch when I noticed something not entirely strange. The audience wasn’t engaged. They were listening politely but not really hearing me. Why I wondered? The content of the pitch was solid, my performance had been rehearsed, perfected. Then it dawned on me. I was losing them in the transition between Power Point slides. The space in between spaces. They were still in the middle of understanding one concept when I suddenly thrust another into their mental landscape. As they grew more distant I grew more frustrated and the performance lost its authenticity.

Later that evening, as I deconstructed my performance I realized that this is not a singular phenomenon. Josh Waitzkin, the child chess prodigy, martial arts champion and subject of the film Searching For Bobby Fischer describes this phenomenon as it relates to chess in his great book, The Art of Learning: A Journey in the Pursuit of Excellence. He describes a situation in which one player has a slight advantage over another. The player with the advantage nurses it throughout the course of the game then suddenly something happens. A change in momentum that nullifies the advantage.

Yet the player who previously had the advantages fails to adapt. He bases his strategy on what was rather then then what is. In short, he misses the transition and clings to the past. His previous advantage has blinded him to objective reality and has now become a disadvantage.

So too with me. My pitch was carefully crafted. I painstakingly designed each image and carefully selected each word for maximum effectiveness. But I was to invested in the outcome. I was married to the endgame and not the process itself.

What dawned on me was that in business as in life, one must embrace uncertainty and master the art of the transition. If life is a series of transitions then it stands to reason that by mastering the process of transition one masters their destiny.

We can make plans and execute them to the best of our ability but there are always unforeseen circumstances that threaten to destroy our plans. But being at peace with the unknown, cultivating a relationship of wonder and excitement at unexpected challenges is the only way to effectively deal with them. Wade Boggs, the former Major League Baseball player turned author says it best “Our lives are not determined by what happens to us but how we react to what happens, not by what life brings us but the attitude we bring to life”.