Why moving from a linear to cyclical mindset is the key to leading in a complex post-Covid world.
To cope with an uncertain and volatile world, visionary leadership is key to developing future-proofed businesses. Moving beyond a linear business model to a more cyclical one is a powerful tool that can lead to resilient businesses able to weather any storm.

What you need to know

  • In a Volatile Uncertain Complex Ambiguous world, we need to re-think the way we look at and react to events in order to embody a visionary leadership style.
  • A shift from a linear mindset towards a cyclical one is a powerful way to provide more clarity and build up future-ready businesses that are resilient and adaptative.
  • Integrating a cyclical mindset into a business model enhances their impact and ability to remain strong against further unexpected societal shifts.
  • Entrepreneurial families looking to secure their legacy should be inspired by ancient Chinese philosophy and consider time their ally, rather than a continuous constraint, to be able to leverage and adjust it to their individual, family and business posture accordingly.



Organisation Published on Simple November 24, 2021

While the world progressively wakes up after 18 months of restrictions and emergency adaptation, one could say that the time of great resignation now moves towards the great adaptation. Similarly, as some mourn loved ones, our collective mind-body-soul trinity is about to reach a new phase in the bereavement cycle in a post-Covid world reality. We understand, whether consciously or not, that we need to find new ways to live and work together. Businesses have accepted this too, and family enterprises are no different. The ability to adapt in a crisis lasted long enough to push various systems beyond their limits – that of our physical planet, the essential need for care and mental health, our vulnerable globalised supply chains, the impact of climate change on our economies and societies, to name a few.

Mainstream society, economies and businesses models are based on linear thinking

This thinking calls for infinite and systematic growth – because punctual de-growth can have dramatic social and economic impacts – constant production, and the glorification of work. Any downtime is considered a weakness, whether we talk about a country’s economy, a professional career, supply and demand. A break is considered to be the end. This kind of thinking has led many to be afraid of anything other than material growth, as material growth is limited by essence. The natural world, and its species, has infinite physical growth potential, but humans are not concerned with this. “What is material is ephemeral; what is non-material is eternal,” as The Upanishads say. This, combined with Lavoisier’s observation that “nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed”, it’s clear that the mainstream view is that material’s cyclicality is trivial.

Everything in life is cyclical

Night and day. Seasons: spring, summer, autumn and winter for temperate zones, dry and rainy seasons for tropical zones. Birth, growth stages, and death. Everything in life is cyclical. Take one stage and it becomes absolute nonsense without the other. The biggest cycle we have difficulty facing and accepting is that life exists with death, not without. However, contemporary western mindsets praise consistency and regularity, looking for a regular (if not skyrocketing) and linear evolution in everything. Hence, the proverbial phrase “one step at a time” is dramatically misleading. The idea associated with this term is a linear and highly regular conception of life and progression. As long-distance walkers know, reaching the end goal indeed requires thousand of steps that must be taken one step at a time, due to human physical capacity.

cyclical business

Family businesses experience cycles in the same way nature does, and the ones that embrace this are more likely to be future-proofed.

The words “circular” and “regenerative” are the new adjectives for state-of-the-art sustainable, or cyclical, business models. Similarly quite misleading as this does miss the temporary factor. Instead, a life cycle assessment gives a better sense of reality. Here, the complete ecosystem that takes care of each product’s life stage, either material or service, is reduced to circularity, which encourages a sense of consistency and regularity, while each stage has its own particularities, such as rhythm, processing time, intensity and visible activity. The regenerative stages relate to the slow time when work is done by the natural elements such as the sun, bacteria,  and other nanoscopic particles, through a precise succession of chemical reactions. This invisible work is essential to regenerate us, our bodies, our mental health, and the earth. Take the natural water cycle, for example, the regenerative process happens over a long period of time, as the water filters through the soil, sand, trees, and age-old rocks, before reaching open sources and rivers, where their circulation is accelerated.

A family is naturally a cyclical business

Regeneration is the acceptance of letting go, cherishing the newly-created space and the joy of renewal. We, as individuals, families and businesses, are part of a complex world where everything has its own cycle, such as modality phases, frequencies, rhythm, intensity. The diversity and intertwinement of all parts contribute to the complexity and intricacy of ecosystems at any level. Like a living fractal reality. The knowledge and the understanding of each is a long work that requires humility and starts with self-awareness.

As Edgar Morin says, a business is a living organisation founded on the diversity of its parts, which produces in order to self-produce, dealing with the complexity of its external and internal ecosystem. The exact definition could be given to a family. The cyclical nature of generational transition generally requires a clear understanding of the right timing. Is the current generation ready to let it go? Is the next generation prepared and ready to take it over? What is the role of each generation in the life cycle of the family? What does it mean to be a cyclical family business? Is it to physically grow, to regenerate the values, to strengthen the positioning or to accept the transformation for a new phase of growth? Slowing down to speed up is necessary to preserve energy, time and focus on deep work.

Individuals dedicated to fostering respect and recognition, encouraging autonomy and empowering others are often the ones who lead successful teams with care. In such a sense, women especially have an intimate knowledge of the benefits of cycles. They know that embracing cycles can leverage maximum energy at a certain point, and can help regenerate their energy and idea during another. This ability to flow can lead to a better understanding of other cycles. As a surfer understands the cycle of waves, they appreciate the realm after a big wave, the intensity of paddling to catch the wave and then the energising surfing time. The same principles can be applied to cyclical businesses. Recognising cycles during complexity gives each of us a better understanding of the situation, enhancing our capacity to adapt to it, and enabling us to pay attention to the unexpected. We are then more ready for the unexpected, through leveraging the natural cyclic rhythms.

Awareness and attention to cycles give a great sense of belonging and the feeling of being part of something bigger than ourselves. Cyclicity is a characteristic of life, which plays as a social bonding; not only to other humans but also to animals, plants and global ecosystems. Embracing cycles helps us to accept our vulnerabilities and develop a sense of interdependencies; it gives more value to the human principles of care than we currently give. It adds more value to cross-generational mutual learning. And it teaches humility and empathy.

Switching to a cyclical business mindset is a way to grasp impermanence and pay more attention to weak signals. Those that deliver the message that something is changing, whether perceived as positive or negative. The impermanence of life helps us shift from control towards creativity found in opportunity. This mindset is key to leading teams and businesses during VUCA periods.

Referring to the second part of Upanishads’ extract, families and their advisors know it as the family immaterial legacy. This part has infinite growth and should be well taken care of at any level of the family: within it, at an individual and relationship level, and with its dynamic environment that includes all the stakeholders, either in for-profit or not-for-profit activities. The immaterial legacy lays in the values and level of consciousness for the ecosystems and their parts. Embodying these values and nurturing the consciousness is vital to remain relevant through fractal cycles of materiality.

Managing the material and the non-material requires rethinking our relation to time. Understanding a cyclical business mindset means considering time an ally, being appreciative of the slow time, downtime, fast time, short time, long time, and most importantly, the present time. Doing so will only increase your impact and legacy manifold.

About the Authors

Christelle Vigot

Christelle Vigot

Business transformation & value creation

Christelle believes that families have to adapt if they are to safeguard their legacy, the performance of their business – as well as the planet. Strategy, empathy, and transversal creativity are fundamental in a shifting and complex world.

Connect with Christelle Vigot

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