Liz Wiseman, Stagnation and Burnout Zone

 “We all know one of those colleagues — bright and driven, but wasting away in a job they’ve been doing for years. They may be working hard, but they are trapped in old thinking and stuck in a rut, often putting as little thought into their work routine as their daily shampooing routine — lather, rinse, repeat. Some just look stale, while others start to stink. With each passing day, their hard-earned knowledge and skills become more obsolete, and they become less fit to work elsewhere. It is painful to watch.”

-Liz Wiseman

Liz Wiseman is a management consultant. She is author of books like Multiplier, Rookie Smarts etc.

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Based on her research, she has identified what she calls as burnout zone. Before you reach burnout zone, you start stagnating.

When you are on top of things, stagnation starts. You become comfortable, start feeling good about yourself, keep getting positive feedback etc. but after some time boredom creeps in, you are more interested in fixing other people’s problems than improving yourself. Slowly you start having negative feeling about things and start getting annoyed about certain things. Next step is burnout zone.

“When the world is changing quickly, experience can become a curse, trapping us in old ways of doing and knowing, while inexperience can be a blessing, freeing us to improvise and adapt quickly to changing circumstances.”

― Liz Wiseman


In burnout zone you are idling, you are working in comfort zone and limiting your professional growth.

“Experience is not the enemy: It is the hubris that is often a by-product of experience that is our greatest enemy.”

― Liz Wiseman

'We're the largest, strongest things on this planet! Why change now?'

To move out of this zone Liz recommends certain things like,  talking to strangers, take views of people who are not from your business/funtion, expand network and perspective. You can take a job you are not qualified for; this will move you out of comfort zone. Throw out your best practices and develop new practices fit for the new realities of work. Try shredding your crib notes, stump speeches and other templates that have you stuck in a rut.


“What man actually needs is not some tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him.”

― Liz Wiseman

In other words golden era is over; get ready to catch the next wave.

High Performers, Failures and Golden Period

“I wore black because I liked it. I still do, and wearing it still means something to me. It’s still my symbol of rebellion — against a stagnant status quo, against people whose minds are closed to others’ ideas.”

― Johnny Cash       

There are lot of books available in market on high performers, successful leaders, habits of successful people etc. Each has its own theory of what makes person a success. Many books are written by management experts based on lot of research.

My organisation Vivify works in field of talent assessment. Based on my experience, I see something common in way higher performers work. Some common themes that come across are

  1. Coming up with multiple options and comfort with numbers- For any given situation they come up with multiple options and analyse them well before choosing one. Secondly they are quite comfortable with numbers be it quantitative analysis, market figures or financial analysis.
  2. Dealing with stakeholders- High performers excel in dealing with stake holders, be it customers, peers, subordinates or board members. They usually come up with win-win deal and are seen as fair.

My experience is what really separates high performers from failures is how they deal with  what I call as “Decline of Golden Era”.

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Golden Era is that period of history when success is at its peak in every sphere of life be it arts, architecture, science & technology ex. Gupta rule is seen as golden era of Hinduism, while period between 9th to 12th century is seen as golden era of Islam. Period from 18th to early 20th century was golden era for Britain. Britons could proudly sing “Britannia rules the waves…Britons never never shall be slaves” (but make others slaves!)

“One day everything will be well, that is our hope. Everything’s fine today, that is our illusion”

― Voltaire

Similarly each organisation has its golden era, when there is plenty of business, profitability is high, shares are up, employees get good pay hike/bonuses/promotions etc. After sometime decline sets in and things get tougher.

High performers are first to spot decline and start preparing for next wave, for them golden era is not a fixed period in history, it is cyclic. They hate status quo and start preparing for next golden era, which requires competencies which are very different from ones required for earlier golden era.

Low performers/failures are slow to spot decline, they believe that golden era is permanent and they should keep doing what they were doing. Even during decline they believe that trend will soon reverse and golden era will be back. Once they see no sign of return of golden era, they become cynic and get nostalgic. They refuse to change and keep blaming others for decline, irritate others with stories of golden era, criticise current policies etc.  They never question their status quoist mentality and need for change.

I know one such person who worked for reputed large organisation, after spending 35 years in same function he retired 4 years ago. We will call him Shantaram, he looks like Paresh Rawal in Hera Pheri. Since I don’t know how he looked during “golden era”, I assume he must be like young Paresh.

Shantaram with his team in "Golden Era"
Shantaram with his team in “Golden Era”

In any get together Shantaram will always join group that is critical of current management set up. He will keep telling about how he ran organisation (unit which he headed was sold to stop financial losses), how he trained and motivated people, how good his team was ( none of his team members have anything good to say about him), how well he filed papers, how he stapled them, how he punched holes exactly in middle of A4 size paper, how useless current people are ….so on.

Shantaram motivates his team members during decline of golden era
Shantaram motivates his team members during decline of golden era

Shantaram is imprisoned in golden era and refused to get out of prison. Shantaram may be talented and may have contributed during golden era, but today is a failure.

Shantaram ... today
Shantaram … today


Shantaram ...then
Shantaram …then