The existing growth paradigm of “More is better” does not work in a sustainable world. Organizations aiming to thrive as sustainable players need to rethink their growth strategy.
Is it possible to grow organizations without increasing their ecological footprint? Is growth necessary in the first place? Today’s growth paradigm of “More is better”, which is interwoven into our culture’s fabric, educational systems and daily behaviors, cannot sustain our world’s fast growing population. It is just a matter of time before we are hitting a wall.
Assessing our current business environment, the problem seems obvious: Companies who don’t grow stagnate – at least through the eyes of Wall Street. They are simply not interesting to the average investor. As a result they lose the direct competitive advantage provided by access to capital. Upon closer examination, however, the drivers for business growth are not that obvious. After all, it is every one of us that keeps Wall Street going. It’s our investment capital, our dollars that cast the vote.
In fact, most of today’s business and material growth is not driven by the belief that “More is Better”. It is driven by our anticipation what happens if growth is missing. In essence, our drive for growth is driven by the following 3 beliefs: I have to manipulate a future outcome (e.g. I have to make enough money so my business or I will be safe in the future), I have to manipulate what others think about me (e.g. I am buying a big car, or am building a powerful company so others think highly of me), and I have to avoid future pain (e.g. so I don’t need to do deal with all the nuisances of running short of money).
It is easy to see that each of these drivers does not only create environmental havoc; they also create stress and exhaustion, resulting in an unsustainable lifestyle. The “More is Better” concept is an element of what we call the model of Dominance & Subservience(TM), upon which most of today’s organizations are built (see previous blog about the Dominance & Sustainability model): we create an unsustainable environment in our attempt to dominate the resources that guarantee our survival, such as land, money, or other natural resources.
Remains the question: Is growth necessary – or even possible – in a sustainable world?
Growth is not only one of the 6 fundamental human needs (certainty, variety, significance, connection, growth, contribution), it is also one of the most naturally occurring phenomena in nature. Every plant and every creature goes through the phases of inception, growth, decay and annihilation. The problem we are facing is that although we are all excited about inception and growth, decay and annihilation scares our pants off. We keep relationships alive long after the love has gone. We keep our jobs long after they provide us with true inspiration and fulfillment. We keep companies afloat long after they have lost their mission. We push energy and expend resources to keep old structures alive, although many indicators signal that they are ready for a transformation – not necessarily death, but a transformation to a new growth phase.
Therefore, the question is not whether growth is necessary, but which growth is necessary? And is it possible to build “successful” organizations with this new growth paradigm?
To preempt an answer: In order to redefine growth in a sustainable world, we need to shift from money as a key measure to values and contribution. One example is Patagonia, one of the world’s leading models for sustainable business practices. Patagonia’s focus is not to maximize financial growth, but to maximize quality, the expression of its core values, and to contribute to a bigger purpose. Although competing in a tough market, Patagonia has become a movement rather than an ordinary business, a preferred provider of goods for a trusted customer base – financially successful, but growing in purpose and contribution.
This post originally appeared on JustMeans.
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