Since 1977, I have been sending out a newsletter called LEARNINGS. Here is how I began the first issue: 

This newsletter—LEARNINGS—is my way of sharing with you what I am learning. Often I learn something with one client that would have been useful with another client the day before. In order to bridge that gap of time and also to bridge the gap of space that separates me from clients and other friends outside Cleveland, I will share my learnings with you regularly in this newsletter. 

That statement feels amazingly accurate more than 35 years later. The only real change is that I moved from Cleveland to London and then on to the Crook of Devon in Scotland. 

In the earlier newsletters, I shared one or two learnings each time. Then I read a wonderful book by Michael Phillips called The Seven Laws of Money. He describes the Taoist approach to creating Seven Laws about anything.

I like that approach except that instead of announcing Laws, I prefer to share Learnings. I’ve now discovered Seven Learnings about all sorts of things, including Journaling, Love, Retreat, and Diversity. The latest Learnings starts here; the rest are in the Learnings Archive. 


LEARNINGS Number 15: December 1988


LEARNING: Both success and disaster require me to change. 

This morning I spent two hours talking with Gerda Ringstrom, who was in London for a few days. Gerda and two colleagues run a training company in Denmark so we were trading stories of various successes and disasters over the past few months. 

I told Gerda the wonderful line I heard some time ago: “The middle of success looks like disaster.” I also told her that the first few times I tried to quote that line I got it backwards and said: “The middle of disaster looks like success.” 

But as we talked, Gerda and I realised that both statements are true. The middle one looks like the other because it is. When I am on the peak of success I am in between two valleys of disaster and when I am in the valley of disaster. I am in between two peaks of success. 

Success/disaster sketch 

As I sketched this image for Gerda I remembered the image I created for another Danish friend. Preben Haar is responsible for the significant growth at his company’s factory in Wales. Last year we were doing some work together and Preben said that his factory was no longer just surviving but was beginning to do quite well. 

As I listened to Preben I thought of a figure climbing uphill. The climb is always uphill, but when I am climbing out of the valley I am just surviving while when I am climbing up the mountain I am thriving. I made a sketch of that which Preben has used several times since. 

But this image does raise a question. What happens on the far side of the mountain? As I talked with Gerda, I realised that the survive and thrive image fits in with the success and disaster image of mountains and valley. Once I stand on the mountain peak the next step is to dive down again into the valley. So now we have three stages: Survive, Thrive, and Dive 

Survive/Thrive sketch 

Survive/Thrive/Dive sketch 

While I was sketching this new image this morning, Gerda and I continued talking about mountains and valleys. She said, “You can see things in the valley that you cannot see on the mountain.” We agreed that the times of diving down into disaster can actually be useful. I have time to look around and see where I am. 

It occurs to me just now that it is much easier to climb a new mountain from a valley than from another mountaintop. And so Diving gives me the opportunity to choose again. 

I have been experimenting with this the past two months. Our fiscal year ended with Castle definitely Thriving on revenue almost double that of last year. I danced delightedly on the mountaintop until someone asked if we were going to double again next year. The only way we do that would be to change how we operate. 

A few weeks later we had a sudden Dive in business. Both the mountain view and the valley view showed the need for us to change. After the initial shock, I gathered my support team to discuss the opportunities. We decided to make a basic change in the way we do business. And now we are in the Surviving phase as we head up the mountain toward our new goals. 

Having spent the last month looking at spreadsheets and graphs on last year’s revenue and next year’s projections, I am bemused by the similarity between the lines on the graphs and the lines on the Dive, Survive, Thrive chart. 

Perhaps the most important similarity is that the overall trend is upward. And that is how all this fits together personally for me. Even though I don’t have spreadsheets and computer-generated graphs to show my own progress through life, I do have a sense that the overall trend is upward. 

Sometimes the people and organisations I work with are in the Thriving phase and asking what to do with success. Sometimes they are in the Diving phase and asking what to do with disaster. And sometimes they are in the Surviving phase and asking how to move from disaster to success. 

What I am learning is that the particular phase is not really so important. Wherever I am on the mountain and or in the valley I have to face those basic questions that my friend John Carter states so clearly: Who am I? What do I want? How do I get it? 

As long as I keep answering those questions, I am now reasonably certain that Diving will lead to Surviving and eventually to Thriving. That does not mean that I actually enjoy all three phases. But I am more willing now to accept that long-term Thriving means relatively frequent times of Diving and Surviving. 

LEARNING: To be Alive is to Dive, Survive, and Thrive.