grass growing

Growth is good, right?

This stuff goes under the banner of Growth Guides so we’re all about growth, right? Because growth is good. That’s what they say, don’t they? I mean, Forbes even had an article recently called “Growth Is the Answer to Everything”. But is it? Really? And not just when it comes at any cost, but even as an end in itself?

Is growth the answer to everything?

Let’s consider a large, established brand. One that sells soft drinks, for example, but it could be any number of products or services. The business will have shareholders and, as a rule, very few shareholders seem happy just to earn a return on their investment. Instead, they want to see the value of the business increasing and nothing other than the prospect of eternal growth ahead of them.

But what does that actually mean? It means they have to sell more soft drinks. And then more. And then more still. And then more again. Forever. And what does that mean? It means current customers drinking their soft drink more often, and/or new customers coming on board. Which probably means getting into new territories, establishing new usage opportunities, crushing competitors and so on. You know the drill. And if this happens, if this growth manifests, is that good?

Yeah, more Coke drinkers!

Well, I suppose the shareholders will be happy, at least if they are convinced it’s all going to happen again next year. And the year after. And the year after. The staff might feel fulfilled and get their bonuses (but the targets will be even higher next year). And more people will get to drink more of their soft drink rather than whatever they drank before. Which might be good, I guess, if economies of scale through the growth have made it affordable when it wasn’t before. But really, is the world a better place because we have more Coke or Pepsi drinkers drinking more and more Coke or Pepsi? I’m not convinced, but you can make up your own mind.

Good growth is progress to something worthwhile

But what about a different scenario? What if you were developing a new food that made everyone who ate it super-immune to colds and ‘flu? And then you did what the soft drink company above did? Grow, sell more, achieve economies of scale, get into new territories etc. Is that any different?

Ok, ok, that one’s too easy. But there is a point, no? Growth is good if the ends are good. And growth is probably not so good if the ends are not good. But, but, but… who is to say whether something is ‘good’ or not? Surely that is ridiculously naive? Yeah, you’ve got a point. But it is your life. Your blood, sweat and tears. Your sleepless nights and painful conversations. Fuck everyone else: are you really prepared to go through all this, and you surely will have to, for something you don’t believe in? Something with ends you don’t actually see as progress?

And that doesn’t mean you need a product that cures cancer or anything so worthy. It might be an app that makes it easier for people to do their expenses. Or a restaurant that sends its leftovers to the homeless rather than chucking them away. Or a film that touches people and makes them smile. Or just a common or garden product or service that’s simply done a bit better. And for fuck’s sakes, yes, the Coke guy might actually believe the world needs more Coke drinkers. And if he does, good luck to him, he’s in the right place. Your challenge is to make sure you’re in the right place for you.

Growth should be progress towards something you believe in

You see, we love goals, targets and objectives. Even KPIs 😉 But most of all, we love progress, the feeling of moving successfully towards something we want to achieve. Of course, progress is never smooth, but the journey is often magnificent and usually inspiring.

For us, the key is that the progress has to be towards something worthwhile. Something meaningful. Something that ‘makes things better’. And yes, once again, that may sound ludicrously naive, but at the very least, you need to ask yourself, as we do, if you think what you are aiming for is ultimately meaningful and worthwhile. And if you do, and for as long as it is, go for it. Hold nothing back and give it your best shot. But if it’s not, don’t be afraid to take a step off the treadmill and reassess. Because life’s too short to put your heart and soul into something you don’t really believe in.

Growth sometimes means cutting back

Be mindful, also, that growth (progress) sometimes means adjusting your direction. Or even cutting something so you can focus more on something else. Focusing where you have started to spread too thinly. This might not be the kind of growth a shareholder with a very short-term outlook will approve of, but it’s the kind of growth you need to look for at times. Because it’s the kind of growth that helps you progress towards what you really want to achieve.

Seek growth, but seek growth on your terms

Final thoughts? We work with people, businesses and ideas we believe in because, in our opinion, what they are doing is worthwhile. And our goal is to help them progress, to help them grow. And grow really quickly if that’s sustainable. But we will also challenge them along the way to make sure the growth we are guiding them towards is growth they still find meaningful.

So yes, growth is good. It is good when it is the growth of something meaningful, at least to you, but it is not good when it’s just for the sake of it. And as individuals, getting that squared up is both important and probably all we can really ask of ourselves.

By Tony Harbron...

Tony Harbron of Growth Guides marketing, the Exeter based team helping founders and ambitious companies to scale up

Tony Harbron is a highly experienced strategist, innovator and marketing professional with time spent in both client and agency environments as well as in senior management (to listed company CEO level) and as an entrepreneur responsible for creating, building and selling a number of successful brands and businesses.

Tony was previously involved with numerous world-famous brands and organisations including Red Bull, the BBC, Ofcom, Lynx, Pot Noodle, Ministry of Sound, the FT, the Independent,, Virgin etc.

He is an innovation specialist and has run numerous workshops and seminars on creativity, new product development and idea generation.

His most recent venture saw him guide Lightfoot on their growth journey and he remains an investor in the company. Tony is an Oxford University graduate, an MBA, and a member of the Marketing and Market Research Societies.

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