Can a single epiphany transform your career? Can one individual thought, when it holds you, grips you, and doesn’t let go of you, make that magic happen? In other words, you are going on with your life, and this one thought hits you, and suddenly the trajectory of your career changes. You better believe this can happen to you. Because when it hits you, it will transform you.
What is an Epiphany?
An epiphany is a sudden realization that changes your entire perspective. Its what Dorothy experienced in The Wizard of Oz: she could go home anytime by just clicking her shoes! That understanding transformed not only Dorothy but also the perception of the viewers.
I can bet that if you look back in your own life, you will find a situation where a single epiphany changed your life.
The Power of A Single Thought
Let’s consider a few incidents to see how a single thought changed someone’s life.
Gandhi was an elite lawyer who led a good life in South Africa. He used to travel first class and was pursuing a career in law. Then one day, he was thrown off the train by the authorities. It was not because he had committed a crime but because he was a non-white traveling in first class. After he was flung off the train by force, he sat on the platform for a long time – thinking. And the thoughts that went through his mind at that fateful moment changed his life forever. Suddenly, a freedom fighter was born who would shake the mighty British empire to its roots.
Sometimes, a new idea doesn’t take hold of you right away. It hits you over and over before it converts you. When Jack Welch came across the concept of Six Sigma first, he didn’t give it a second thought. But when he was exposed to the idea a few times, it gripped him. And then he made all of GE embrace it in a way that Six Sigma became associated with GE and its success for years to come.
At other times, people feel compelled to do something or say something after the idea hits them. And that act of saying or doing changes everything for them. In Jerry Maguire, Tom Cruise wrote that piece which led to his getting fired, and everything changed for him after that. At P&G, McElroy, a junior marketing manager, felt compelled to write a scathing memo about how P&G was managing its business the wrong way. That was back in the 1930s, and with that one memo, Brand management was born. McElroy eventually became the CEO of P&G in the late 1940s.
I was pursuing a successful corporate career for many years and was pretty happy with it. From where I stood, my trajectory and my career velocity were both clear and reasonably certain. But then an idea took hold of me. It was an epiphany. And my career trajectory changed forever. Within a year, I was at Duke University working with some of the best minds in the field of management. I was transformed from being a business manager to being a seeker of truth in academia! My path suddenly changed. And it goes back to a single idea – an epiphany!
How An Epiphany Works
So what happens when you go through an epiphany? First of all, it reorganizes everything in your perspective. It is a tectonic shift that moved the perceptual tectonic plates in your view of the world. And it happens rapidly – almost instantly. It is like what happens on a theater stage between the scenes. In one scene, the play is going on with the setting fixed in the background. The furniture pieces, the background, and the walls make a stable environment. And then there is a blackout before lights come back again. And suddenly, everything changes. The walls, the furniture, and the knick-knacks all gone and a new scene emerges. An epiphany does the same thing to you!
How Bogle Created an Epiphany for me
Let’s consider an epiphany from the field of personal finance that transformed millions of lives.
For the longest time, I used to believe that professional asset managers add significant value for investors. They use cutting-edge research to select stocks and time the market in a way that I cannot do. As a result, if I am paying them 1-2% to manage money, it is the right thing to do.
The above worldview included many other beliefs that formed a coherent whole. Here are a few:
- I cannot manage money on my own.
- Asset managers deserve the money they make.
- Investment banks know things that others do not.
- I get what I pay for.
- I should not worry about the cost of mutual funds but worry about the profits they get me.
The Idea of Indexing Emerges
But then I came across the concept of indexing. I read what Jack Bogle was writing and speaking. It didn’t make any sense in my old worldview. Why would you want to get average returns when experts can get you superior returns? But then I started reading the research and financial history of asset classes and fund managers. At some point, I had an epiphany: nobody knows much, and the consistent market returns (not beating the marker) is the best deal for me.
Indexing Upsets The Apple Cart
That single idea, reorganized every other belief in this area for me. The awe about expert asset managers disappeared. The activities of asset managers like frequent trading and stock selection began to appear wasteful. The cost of fund management was the first thing I started to see when looking at different mutual funds.
You see, one epiphany changed everything for me. It altered where I focused, how I interpreted things, and what actions I took. And as a result, I began to produce different results and formed different expectations.
And that is what an epiphany does for you. It reorganizes and changes your perspective. Due to that, you begin to focus on different things, interpret events differently, and take various actions.
Preparing for an Epiphany
So if you want to transform your career, seek the epiphany that leads you there. But there is a way about epiphanies. They come to you when you are ready for them. Apples kept falling forever, and nobody gave a second thought. Why did it take a Newton to ask why they keep falling? It is because he was prepared for it.
How do you prepare for an epiphany? By just using being open! By letting new ideas in and considering them for their merit. A closed mind will not allow an epiphany to hit you.
I recall the time when I was pursuing my Ph.D. in management. I used to go through intense periods of series of epiphanies. It was one of the best times of intellectual growth for me. The program and intellectual exchange with people and ideas led to a fertile ground for epiphanies to be born.
It was through a series of epiphanies that the person who emerged on the other end of the Ph.D. program was a different person from the one who entered it! That is the power of an epiphany.
Epiphanies in the Age of the internet
In the era of the internet, we are being bombarded with knowledge. So shouldn’t we be going through epiphanies more often? The irony here is that the velocity of information makes it harder to experience an epiphany. First, the speed of data makes us think less – as we flit from one piece of information to another. Second, the information explosion has reduced the quality of information coming to us. Together, they make epiphanies harder. Third, with so much information we can ignore whatever doesn’t fit with our existing belief system and thus create an intellectual safe zone for us.
In short, information explosion may, in fact, be making us less open-minded, less thoughtful, and less prepared for epiphanies!
Preparing For An Epiphany
You may be asking the question whether there is an antidote that can make you better prepared for your epiphany?
The answer lies in your ability to consume and interact with high-quality information and ideas.
One of the best ways to consume thoughtfully arranged information is through books and courses. Such sources help you absorb a vast amount of information without having to go through thousands of sources. They allow you to spend time on consuming and interacting with information instead of wasting time searching for information.
For example, when I prepared a course on Becoming a Strategist, I went through thousands of articles, books, case studies and then stepped back to see what were the most relevant pieces of information for you. And when a student sits in my class on becoming a strategist, he or she goes through a transformation because I spent thousands of hours collecting the most relevant information, arranging it, and testing it on thousands of students.
To help people get the epiphany they need, I started the Business Leadership Academy. If you are an ambitious professional who believes that the right knowledge can transform your career, you owe it to yourself to at least try the academy once.
When I need information on an area, I search and find the right book or an online course of for that. I know someone has spent a considerable amount of time collecting the information I need.
I strongly suggest that you do the same. That is your surefire way to experience the epiphanies that will transform your career.
History has shown that a single epiphany can transform your life and your career. But the information explosion might make it harder for you to receive an epiphany! And if you build lousy information consumption habits like skimming information on the internet, you may be moving away from the very epiphany that you badly need.
In this age of the Internet, a great way to receive the epiphany that will transform your career is to consume painstakingly arranged content. Business Leadership Academy is one such way to access such content. The other is to read good books!