You know what this term means out in the garden…plant is growing, needs more space, gets repotted.  In its new location we anticipate the plant will thrive, and it normally does.

Over the past few weeks my spouse has been leading a major remodel of our garden in Laguna Beach; there is of course some repotting going on there:

Example of "repotting"

Example of “repotting”


The first time I heard the term “repotting” in a business context was around 1971 when I began at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. A former Dean and remarkable leader, Ernest Arbuckle, coined the term to describe his desire to have a significant variation in his career path every 10 or so years.

He was a businessperson in several industries. As Dean, he is widely credited with leading the ascendance of the Stanford GSB to the top rankings of business schools in the world. From 1978 to 1981 he was chairman of Wells Fargo, helping to put in place the culture that has fueled WF’s growth – from being one of many small regional banks to what is now the most valuable bank in the world.

His concept of repotting was a familiar idea around the business school back then.  It was an original and thought provoking statement in that day’s world of steady employment with one employer or in one industry.  Although I don’t recall thinking much about the term when in school or for years thereafter, the idea may have sunken in.  Or perhaps the world changed.  In any event, as things have unfolded, I’ve “repotted” more than once and feel I may once again be flirting with that phase. I fear not.

As I look around at the young entrepreneurs flooding San Francisco from all over the world, I do wonder how they’ll repot and how successful they’ll be at it.  (Not a question of if they will, IMO, they will).  Many, perhaps most, of these fortune seekers are trained in coding computers, a skill they’re using to make a good living.  However, for most, coding ability is an asset with a short half-life.  In the time they have with the high beta skill of coding in the rapidly changing environment of programming languages, and with new entrants (younger people) nipping at their heels, will they find the treasure they’re seeking?  What if they don’t?  Do they even know what treasure they’re seeking?

A recent article in a Stanford publication outlines how one of Dean Arbuckle’s mentees outlines his approach to repotting as a proactive career/life choice:

  1. Know when it’s time to change.
  2. Seek support and commit to a new direction.
  3. Embrace uncertainty and tune out the noise.
  4. Network broadly.
  5. Synthesize your experience to make a difference.

It’s a good article.  Inc. magazine also has a couple of articles on the subject, for example this one.

Finally, in a nod to the pertinence of the repotting concept in today’s world, the cover story of the June, 2014 Psychology Today is “Reinvent Yourself, how to plan your next act.”

Repotting is big and growing, so get used to it!

About Krist

Companion of Wally who is featured at More at
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