The S Curve of Learning and the Analogy of Waterskiing

Last year I had the true joy to spend three days with the talented staff with Disruption Advisors and the cohort of learners in the Smart Growth Certification Program.  Such an incredible gift.

Leading up to this training there was a good portion of pre-work which focused on the beautiful learning in two of Whitney Johnson’s books, Smart Growth – How to Grow Your People to Grow Your Company and Disrupt Yourself – Master Relentless Change and Speed Up Your Learning Curve.

I was so incredibly grateful for this amazing learning and the chance to revisit both of these books prior to our three days, spent virtually, expanding on our learning around the S-Curve of Learning, Growth Accelerants and the Eco-System.

If you are not familiar with the S-Curve of Learning, sharing a graphic from the book Smart Growth.

Graphic from the book Smart Growth by Whitney Johnson

I have always thought of the S-Curve of Learning similar to a wave.  As Whitney Johnson shares in Smart Growth “Every S Curve of Learning is a wave.” In the book Disrupt Yourself, this really looks at the Seven Growth Accelerants which are:

1.  Take the Right Risks
2.  Play to your Distinctive Strengths
3.  Embrace Constraints
4.  Examine Expectations
5.  Step Back to Grow
6.  Leverage Failure
7.  Be Discovery Driven

After our three days of training came to a close, another analogy came up for me in looking at the S Curve of Learning and the Growth Accelerants.  That is one of Waterskiing.  You may not know, growing up we first had to learn to swim at my Grandparents summer place which my Grandma called “Pear A Dice”, with a visual to match, before we could try waterskiing.  This was a big highlight to our summer.

Looking at the S Curve of Learning, before the ski could happen we had to begin to Explore and Collect data.  Were the conditions right?  Did we have the right tools?  Was the boat functioning?  Where was the needed ski rope?  Who was qualified to drive the boat?  Who would be the spotter?  Was the water flat enough or like “glass” for a good ski to happen?  Which skis would we use?  Where would we start?  On the dock or in the water?  In what ways could we play to our distinctive strengths?  And how could we Embrace Constraints and Examine Expectations?

Once we “Explored” and then “Collected” we were then ready to set up for the ski.  This was where we moved into the Sweet Spot and into Accelerator.

As those prepared in the boat, shared the ski rope with us, we waited, in the place where we would launch to the Sweet Spot.   As the rope tightened, we then shared “hit it” and now was the time to Accelerate.  Once we were up on one or two skies, we experienced great joy.

As we skied we were now in the Sweet Spot.  This felt so sweet.   Cutting across the wake, experiencing the incredible joy, of being on the water.  As we navigated the water we were now in Metamorph.  This feels amazing and we are exhilarated by being on the water, and the strength and skills it has taken for us to be here. We are feeling sharp and focused.

Photography by Sharon K. Summerfield

We have enjoyed the ski.  It is now time to let go of the rope and swim back to the dock or the beach, as we are now in Mastery.  The first stage of Mastery is “Anchor”  A time to celebrate.  What did we love?  What did we learn?  Would we approach this next wave or ski in different or similar ways? Did we want to consider different tools?  Taking the time to celebrate is key as this influences our learning and our growth.

Sometimes particularly when we’re tired, its easy to forget what we did well, what we accomplished in our most recent waking hours. Self criticism can convince us the day was a failure, a waste. Remember to applaud the little victories. Whitney Johnson

Once you have celebrated this is now the time to consider what we will do next and move to the Mountaineer phase.

This may be a different ski or embarking on a new wave.  Sometimes as we navigate these S Curves, we may need to bring that ski to an end, and let go of the rope, sooner than we had hoped for.  This is the beauty of the S Curve and the gift of learning.

Photography by Sharon K. Summerfield at Horne Lake, BC Quote by Whitney Johnson

In what ways can you infuse greater learning into how you consider the S Curve you may be on?

Is this nourishing you?

How can the Grow Accelerants help you to show up in different ways?

For me it really is consider these growth accelerants, embracing constraints and examining expectations.

Like the Waterskiing analogy, the constraints of the ski helped to make this sweeter.

Remember, to be kind and gentle with yourself.

Each of us can be on several different S Curves at the same time, as we navigate different pieces of our lives.  This is a beautiful opportunity to grow.

At the launch point, this may not feel easy or comfortable.  As we learn and grow and navigate up our S Curve, into the Sweet Spot, similar to waterskiing, this feels good and so sweet.

When we move into Mastery, it is key to celebrate and consider our next S Curve. Staying in Mastery, is not an option as we will get bored.

This can also be where we may not give things the needed care and attention.

It is like, finishing the last chapter is a great book.  We reflect on the learning.

We have let go of the rope and now are considering what will be the next ski or wave we will step towards.

What new choices will you make?

As you move to a new S Curve of Learning, you are not starting at square one or middle C.

You are taking your rich knowledge and experience with you.

Celebrate the learning and all that was possible.

To the love of learning.  Continue to be curious.

Be kind.  Be patient.  Be nourished in all you do.

Photography by  Sharon K. Summerfield

Photo of Sharon K. Summerfield

At The Nourished Executive we help leaders invest in wellbeing, with a holistic lens, to prevent burnout.

Our founder, Sharon K. Summerfield,  is a Wellbeing Coach,  Holistic Nutritionist and Certified Smart Growth Advisor, with a demonstrated success in nurturing healthy employees and high performing organizations. 

We have a strong commitment to giving back, investing and local community.



  1. Marlies

    Very insightful Sharon and the analogy of waterskiing really resonated!

  2. Usually I do not read article on blogs however I would like to say that this writeup very compelled me to take a look at and do it Your writing style has been amazed me Thank you very nice article

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