Even though the phrase “a steep learning curve” has come to be used in two contradictory ways, the learning process itself can be divided into several universally recognized stages, with absolute mastery being the last one.

Comprehensive knowledge of a subject can work in several ways. For example, it can motivate us to keep exploring a given area with a view to becoming the best of the best, or we may end up demotivated as our progress rate slows down dramatically and the “feel good” effect is gone.

If you agree that “it ain’t easy running out of thrills” and wish to find out how not to lose motivation and keep developing, check out how to “Throw Your Life a Curve”



  • toddler – a young child who is just beginning to walk
  • plummet – decrease rapidly in value or amount
  • enter [somebody] (as in “Enter my co-author”) = this is when [somebody] enters the story, now I will introduce my co-author
  • yield – generate
  • max out – reach the limit of capacity or ability
  • thrive – grow, develop well
  • tipping point – a point at which something relatively unpopular begins to begin rapidly and dramatically common
  • kick in – become activated, come into effect
  • quibble – argue about a trivial matter
  • commence – start
  • keep something/somebody at bay – prevent someone or something from approaching or having an effect
  • accelerate ≠ decelerate
  • crest (top of a wave) ≠ trough (bottom of a wave)
  • plateau – a state of little or no change following a period of activity or progress
  • compelling – interesting in an irresistible way


Think about it

Based on the text answer the following questions. Leave your answers in the comments below!

  • What does the author exemplify by referring to a toddler playing with the light switch?
  • Briefly describe the theory of the diffusion of innovations.
  • Who is Dan McLaughlin? Describe his career change and his progress.
  • What happens when we reach the plateau?
  • What does the author mean by saying “we inhabit an increasingly zig-zag world”?


Practice makes perfect

In the sentences below replace the phrases in bold with the expressions from the original text. Leave your answers in the comments below!

  • But our predictive power nosedives when there is a time delay or non-linearity, as in the case of a CEO who delivers better-than-expected earnings only to wonder at a fall in the stock price.
  • There are time-delayed and time-dependent relationships in which a lot of effort may not generate much in the near-term, or in which high output today may be the result of actions taken a long time ago.
  • Once Facebook reached a critical mass of a hundred million users, hypergrowth came into effect because of the network effect [. . .], as well as virality [. . .].
  • Just as understanding the S-curve can prevent you from becoming discourged as we build new knowledge, it can also help us understand why ennui kicks in once we reach the plateau.
  • As our learning reaches its highest point, should we fail to jump to new curves, we may actually precipitate our own decline.

Read the sentences below and complete the sentences which come underneath to show that you have understood the text.

A. In complex systems like a business (or a brain), cause and effect may not always be as clear as the relationship between the light switch and the light bulb.

Sometimes there _______________________________ between cause and effect.

B. Though we could quibble, depending on our inputs, over when Facebook will reach saturation, there is no question the rate of growth has begun to slow and is now limited, if for no other reason, by the number of people who can access the service.

It is possible that if more people could ___________________________ rate of growth would not have decelerated yet.

C. But through deliberate practice, we gain traction, entering into a virtuous cycle that propels us into a sweet spot of accelerating competence and confidence.

We can increase our competence and confidence thanks to __________________.

D. Not surprisingly, McLaughlin’s rate of improvement (if measured as handicap) is now slowing as he faces competition from the top 10% amateur golfers.

It is obvious that competing against top golfers ____________________________  McLaughlin’s improvement rate.

E. As our learning crests, should we fail to jump to new curves, we may actually precipitate our own decline.

Our decline may result from ______________________________ to new curves.


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