Long distance phone calls, color TV, cursive, typewriter, record album, film, hitchhiking, phone booth, burlesque show, pocket calendar, rolodex, phone book, pink slip, comedians on records…
If you grew up hearing those words, then you grew up with me, in a world where continuous growth was the norm. Companies learned to expect growth in revenue, growth in size, etc. year after year. 10% annual growth targets were just normal business. But that growth was a bit of a mirage, because a lot of it was based on a rapidly growing population who wanted or needed what we were selling.
It took us until about 1800 to hit a billion people – and we grew to 7 billion in just the next two hundred years. That last billion only took us a little more than a decade. It’s easy for a firm to grow in that kind of environment, but that kind of growth can’t last. Exponential growth isn’t possible in a world with finite resources.
Eventually, successful firms are going to be those who have learned to thrive in a low or no-growth environment, where growth is earned the hard way – through improvements in a firm’s products, services and competitive edge – by actually getting better, and not just bigger.
It’s uncomfortable getting used to that mindset, but you might give it a try the next time you do strategic planning and goal setting. It clarifies the things that really matter, and you’ll be surprised how many of those things are actually in our control.
If you haven’t seen David Suzuki’s video analogy on exponential growth, check it out here.