Entrepreneurs and change targets experience similar emotional roller coasters

Understanding transition curves to achieve transformational success

Most have us have been through transformational change, and fair amount of that comes from our workplace. Leaders need to transform businesses to keep them alive and competitive. A well- defined and well run business transformation programme creates operational efficiencies, serves customers better and creates value for the organisation by monetising these gains. Transformation requires a change of hearts and minds for people to adopt own and follow through on the change and are usually met by resistance.


So what does a change target feel, when he is assimilating change?

The Kübler-Ross model (named after Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and first introduced by Swiss-American Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying) has been adapted for change programmes and is a pretty robust description of what it feels like for an individual to assimilate change and goes through a roller coaster ride of denial, frustration (and anger), depression before acceptance and integration.


While to goal is to reduce the length and the depth of the dip, for unwelcome change the shape of the curve is broadly similar. This is what change agents and business transformation experts try and tackle to accelerate their change initiatives (or at a minimum help them succeed)

But such an emotional roller coaster is not just for change recipients…

So what does an entrepreneur feel, when she is driving change?

Her journey is rosier to start because she is optimistic and driving change for the society, except she does not know nor can predict how the markets and their customers would respond?

Marc Andreessen co-founder of Netscape writes

“First and foremost, a start-up puts you on an emotional rollercoaster unlike anything you have ever experienced. You flip rapidly from day-to-day – one where you are euphorically convinced you are going to own the world, to a day in which doom seems only weeks away and you feel completely ruined, and back again. Over and over and over. And I’m talking about what happens to stable entrepreneurs. There is so much uncertainty and so much risk around practically everything you are doing. The level of stress that you’re under generally will magnify things incredible highs and unbelievable lows at whiplash speed and huge magnitude. Sound like fun?”


Adapted from Tim Ferris’ blog on “Harnessing Entrepreneurial Manic-Depression: Making the Rollercoaster Work for you” the stages broadly are

Stage 1: “Uninformed Optimism”. At this stage on a rollercoaster, just getting to the top of the rollercoaster, you experience feelings of an adrenalin rush, characterized by excitement and nervous energy.

Stage 2: “Informed Pessimism”. As you ride over the top of the curve you now have a bit more information. Feelings of fear, nervousness, and frustration begin to set in. Perhaps you even want to get off of it.

Stage 3: “Crisis of Meaning”. You’re past scared. You feel despair. It’s as if you’re standing on the edge of a cliff ready to jump, and you begin to think “Today the rollercoaster’s going off the bottom of the track for the very first time.” You feel helpless and you’re both terrified and frozen.

This is an inflexion point where you can come off the bottom of the curve and crash and burn or you can come around the corner because you’re getting support at “Crisis of Meaning” and you can enter an upward swing call “Informed Optimism”.

Stage 5: Informed Optimism. You’re calm. You’re informed. You might even say you are cautiously optimistic.

So what’s important for entrepreneurs and how should they ride these waves?

The main point here is to recognise the various stages that you are in your entrepreneurial journey and adjust accordingly.

At Uniformed Optimism (Stage 1) you should Talking to the media, potential investors, speaking in public and hiring. You should be avoiding big financial spends and buying decisions as the reality is much harder around the bend

At (Stage 2) Informed Pessimism, with benefit of hindsight you would want to be Planning the next phase of your growth; interim strategic planning and realistic budgeting rather than make hiring decisions;  talk to the media or do speaking events and work in roles where enthusiasm is a precursor for better results and success. Bets to wait for the emotional turnaround

When you reach Crisis of Meaning (Stage 3), the odds feel stacked against you and your bets activities are cupboard cleaning; extending support group activities and building dealing with Top 3/Top 5 list. Tackle the most important thing that needs doing or tackle some bits that provide a sense of accomplishment. Absolutely avoid all or nothing big risk decisions, as Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel laureate argues that human beings succumb easily to misperceptions of chance that people read situations incorrectly and anticipate a next time lucky turn of events, without realising that every subsequent throw of dice has no corporate memory. Mistakes here cause a crash and burn (Stage 4).

At Informed Optimism (stage 5) where energy and excitement build with a bit more reason is when you get back into hiring, reorienting and strategic planning and the most important thing at this stage is to manage your confidence and bound it on both sides -don’t let it slip and do let it get uninformed or you will be back to where you started


Viren Lall is a business transformation expert, an entrepreneurship instructor, and an adjunct professor of management at a leading business school. He has been involved with startups since the 1990s and delivers entrepreneurship boot camps and continuous venture development programmes for startups. He is a key note speaker on succeeding in transformational change and entrepreneurial ventures.

- Viren Lall, London