Episode 001: From Space To Spiral Development – With Amy Simpkins


Amy Simpkins is an aeronautical engineer turned entrepreneur, business coach and personal development expert. In this episode she talks about the importance of ‘Spiral Development' for success, as well as how to build the ultimate ‘vision' for your life.



Show Notes & Resources


Amy, tell us about your life…

  • Wanted to be an astronaut from the age of 12, and became obsessed.
  • Degrees and masters degrees in astronautical engineering.
  • Spent 10 years designing, integrating and operating spacecraft.
  • Suddenly being an astronaut wasn't the goal anymore.
  • Leapt from corporate world to start a business.
  • Started as a life coach and eventually morphed into entrepreneurship coaching, including innovation and creative process.
  • Used skills in innovation from engineering and design days, to impact coaching.
  • ‘Coached' husband to leave corporate job and start a renewable energy company, where I am now CEO.

What was your lowest point in life? How did you overcome it and what lessons did you learn?


  • Believe in failing forward fast.
  • Biggest failure was while studying aerospace engineering at MIT.
  • I was on a design project to design an aeroplane. My area of ‘expertise' was the wings.
  • Working and researching with a friend, we had made a design assumption about the way the wings should be made.
  • He figured out that we were wrong about it – but forgot to tell me.
  • The aeroplane took off and nose-dived into the ground (3-4 times).
  • I felt responsible; like I had let my team down and made me question everything.
  • I failed so spectacularly and publicly, but had grown up fairly smart and wasn't used to failure.
  • This lead to a total breakdown – but I learned that it was important to learn how to fail.
  • I learned that everybody fails and that failure isn't a bad thing.
  • Failure is the engine that moves you forward into new and exciting territories.
  • That was a safe place to fail (and learn how to recover from failure).

What is the biggest and most exciting epiphany that you've ever had?


  • That it was possible for me to venture out and start my own business.
  • That I could make a direct impact on the world, just by being me.
  • I grew up believing that I would be a small part of a huge thing (space exploration).
  • In space exploration it's hard to make or see your impact as an individual.
  • Working in entrepreneurship, or solopreneurship, directly with clients was like a ‘drug' to me.
  • Starting my own business (and seeing the impact or power that I had) really opened my eyes.
  • Seeing a difference TODAY, not in 10 years.

Why are most people not living to their full potential?


  • I always think back to physics and inertia.
  • Newton's laws of motion said: “An object in motion tends to stay in motion, unless acted on by an outside force” and “An object at rest tends to stay at rest, unless acted on by an outside force”.
  • Humans have an inertia, maintaining the path that we're on until something knocks us off it.
  • That requires something BIG from the outside (whether it's something devastating, family change).
  • Making change from the inside is harder.
  • To stop and LOOK at where you're at and decide that you're unhappy enough that you want to make a change is difficult.
  • It takes a lot of courage to step off a long straight path and look for something ‘more'.

What is ‘spiral development' and why is it important?


  • In the 60's, engineering followed a linear approach to development, looking at where you want to go and following steps to get there.
  • A linear A-B approach is very expensive, and even dangerous.
  • As we came into the 80's, and computers and technology improved, turnaround times became much shorter.
  • This ‘linear' method of development was too mistake-ridden, expensive.
  • A more iterative process was created, called ‘spiral development'.
  • You put the process around a circle (and you expect to go around a few times).
  • The first time around, you might just build a model or a basic design.
  • Then you test it, look for improvements and clarification, and then go around again.
  • Each time around the circle, you add a new layer.
  • By the time you deliver something, it's really robust.
  • I quickly realised that spiral development applied to business in exactly the same way.
  • Too many people take a ‘linear' approach to business and personal development.
  • If you can use spiral development in engineering, then you can use it to design a business or design your life.
  • Humans are cyclical. Earth is cyclical. We are used to living as part of CYCLES.
  • The industrial revolution changed us to live on an assembly line – but spiral development stops that.
  • We should use cyclical design to build our lives.
  • The spiral is there, whether you choose to use it or not.

You once said ‘Goals are stupid, vision is where it's at!'. Explain that…


  • I have always been a goal-setting person.
  • But goals lend themselves to that ‘linear' way of thinking.
  • Goals don't provide leeway for making change or altering course or learning new things about yourself.
  • They have an “A-B”, shortest path approach.
  • I hate S.M.A.R.T. goals – putting those quantitate values on it are arbitrary.
  • Goals leave us too much space to believe we failed and knock our confidence.
  • Goals are like using your GPS to drive. It gives you turn by turn directions, but it's really hard to ignore those instructions, even when it seems like the right thing to do.
  • Vision is more like having a map, with more context. You can see alternative routes and other information that you need.
  • I like to use goals and vision in concert with each other.
  • Vision is the big picture painting that gives you an emotional sense of what you're moving towards, with a general sense of direction. Something that you can go back to when things change.
  • On your way to accomplishing your vision, you're going use goals.
  • The vision is the ‘what‘ and the goals are the ‘how'.
  • Cast a vision that encompasses 5, 10 or 15 years.
  • On a day-to-day, week-to-week basis, your goals reflect how you're moving towards that vision.
  • The vision gives you time to re-evaluate and assess where you're heading.
  • This allows you to really enjoy the present moment.

What are your tips for building a true vision for life?


  • There are two components of a vision: How do you want to be? And what do you want to do?
  • Start with your values (IE. “I want to be constantly learning” or “I want to travel” or “I want to be always filled with wonder”)
  • Based on your values, decide what you want to be (That could be a job title, a mission, a way you want to impact the world, etc).
  • Start with your values, not your accomplishments.
  • When we focus on ‘goals', we focus on accomplishments, not our values.
  • Starting with what you want to be, guides you towards what you want to be.
  • Break free from a ‘box-checking' lifestyle and mindset.
  • It's not about checking the box, it's about the journey to get there.

What are the top 3 things we should do next?


  1. Go back and look at your vision. Step back and look at what you're headed towards, to see if it's still what you want.
  2. Think about where you are in your own spiral. Are you being inspired (Stage 1)? Are you implementing (Stage 2)? Are you investigating (Stage 3)? Are you in introspection and evaluation (Stage 4)?
  3. Start from where you are. You don't have to know the whole path before you begin. Just start walking and create it as you go along.

And into the quickfire round…


What is the best self-development advice you've ever received from someone else and who gave you that advice?

  • “You've got to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and go up to bat again” – my Mom.

Can you give us a personal ‘habit’ or personality trait that you think contributes to your success?

  • Being a woman of action and getting things done, without waiting for confirmation or analysis.

This podcast is all about building a more successful life. What does SUCCESS mean to you?

  • It used to be about ‘having more', but it has evolved. It used to be ‘box checking', in a linear orientation. Now it's changed to be having an impactful, fulfilling vision and being content in the present moment, enjoying life even when it's unhappy or frustrating.

Where can we find out more about you?

  • I have a brand new book (out on September 18th), about the spiral development process as it relates to technology, business and personal development. It's called ‘Spiral' and you can find out how to get it at TheSpiralBook.com.
  • To find out more about innovation and creative framework, go to AmySimpkins.com. Or our renewable energy start up at muGrid.com.


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