When Mike Campbell (a character from Ernest Hemingway’s, The Sun Also Rises) was asked how he went bankrupt, he answered: “Two ways. Gradually and then suddenly”.

I rediscovered this in my latest read – How I Built This by Guy Raz – and it’s been on my mind ever since. I just can’t seem to shake it off. It’s so deep and profound, especially when you see it in action. Just yesterday, I started BuyAndSellABusiness.com (BASAB) – which is coming up to its 7th year anniversary. Just yesterday, I married the love of my life and we just celebrated our 6th year anniversary. Just yesterday, I welcomed my son and daughter to this world, they’ll be 5 and 4 respectively.

Reflecting on this deepens the meaning of the fact that failing is scary, but wasting your life is dangerous. Life happens sooner than later and you can’t just be on standby waiting for things. For example, at BASAB we don’t reward failure, but we reward the process – and that’s failing, learning and moving forward. One of our core values is “Don’t Underestimate Motion”.  And what that essentially means is that we want to move, relentlessly, decisively, forward. This, in our opinion, builds positive habits and is subject to the gradual, then sudden, nature of positive change and success. To us, failure is finite (if you let it be), but the process is infinite (if you want it be).

Let’s look at this from a small business perspective.

Have you ever wondered, “How did I get here?” You suddenly realize your business is a wreck. It happens! Let’s step back and remember that approximately 30% of businesses don’t progress past their 5th year anniversary. But the question– “how did I get here?”, is all about habits and how they work – for better or for worse.

Examples of “gradually”:

  1. I’ll talk to my customer tomorrow.
  2. I’ll take digital transformation seriously next month.
  3. I’ll take social media seriously next quarter.
  4. I don’t have time for a team building exercise right now.
  5.  I think we can squeeze some more perks through the business.

The above happens gradually and we don’t notice the long-term consequences. We don’t realize the gradual change occurring until it becomes something dramatic. You don’t notice “gradually” until it becomes “suddenly”.

So, here are some examples of the corresponding “suddenly”:

  1. Competitors have a superior product, because they’re talking to their customers. Therefore, you are selling less.
  2. Revenue is tanking because consumer behaviour is shifting online. You aren’t there, so you’re invisible.
  3. Brand engagement and gaining exposure is becoming harder and harder because you’re not where the ears and eyes are.
  4. Your employees are disenfranchised, leading to poor culture and lack of productivity.
  5. You need to sell your business, but the perks you ran through your business reduced profits, which also reduced the valuation of your business drastically.

Consistency, gradually eventually leads to “suddenly”. It builds momentum, commitment and succumbs to the compound effect – for better or for worse.

Evolution. Wealth. Business. Love. Sleep. Thoughts. This all happens gradually, then suddenly. So, we must remain mindful of what we’re doing gradually. I’ve always said: “The little things we do day in and day out, and the decisions we make every day, shape the life we live.” So, more than ever, we need to pay attention to how we spend our time and how we make decisions – because whether you like it or not, it’s adding up and compounding, and gradually will one day become suddenly.

The year 2021 will be about hope and rebuilding. Now, let’s get to work!