My Personal Phase Transition

This week I took one of the most interesting steps in my career. I said goodbye to my role as business unit manager (though I'm still CIO for our company), and I have started preparing to initiate a brand new project.

It all happened suddenly, in the span of a few days. Just one week ago I didn't even know this was going to happen. I was responsible for 80 people, we had multiple teams, projects, and plenty of customers. And now I sit here all by myself, with no team, no projects, and no customers. I only have some hand-drawn sketches, a 1-page action plan, and my CEO's blessing, and a mandate.

I feel so thrilled and excited, I wish I could sell this experience as a Six Flags ride.

Physicists have long known the concept of phase transitions. A phase transition is a transformation of a system into a new state, with new properties. Like water changing into gas, or a metal object becoming a magnet. Such phase transitions often occur in a short time frame, when the system has reached a certain threshold (like a specific temperature), and the environment pushes it over the edge.

Biologists know a similar concept, which they call punctuated equilibrium. It signifies that most species usually experience little evolutionary change. But when change occurs, it often happens in rare events of "branching speciation", where one species splits into two different species, in a very short time frame. Of course, I'm talking about a geological scale here. Evolutionary biology doesn't concern itself with the X-Men.

Complexity theorists think phase transitions and punctuated equilibria are examples of the same phenomenon. A system lives in a changing environment, and slowly but surely the system experiences pressure to change. For a while the system is able to resist that change. But suddenly, when the circumstances are just right, and the system has achieved a critical state, only a small nudge is sufficient to topple the system over the edge. It experiences a phase transition and changes suddenly into something completely different. It is like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, or a brain transitioning from sleep to consciousness, or a software product switching from development to maintenance mode, or a capitalist car manufacturer becoming a state-owned department for job security.

This week was my phase transition.

I had been doing the same job for a few years. The journey was a great one, and it was challenging for my personal growth to keep up with my growing responsibilities. But slowly and surely I have been wanting to do something entirely different, without knowing what. And then some interesting technologies got my attention, and I heard some new questions from customers, and some research reports found their way to my desk, and my urge to find myself something new was nearing a critical state, and then… SNAP… an idea… and a phase transition occurred.

So that's where I am right now. I just passed the threshold, but I have no clue what my new work is going look like. I only know I will be less concerned with management, and more with development. So it cannot be all that bad. 🙂

And yes, I will keep blogging. And breathing. And tweeting. And complaining.

(No matter what a new system looks like, you can always recognize the old one inside it.)

(image by oskay)

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