Growth: Massive or Controlled?

A student in a high school entrepreneurship program stated that he wanted “massive growth in sales” for his company. His desire for growth is something we’ve all experienced, but is it the right desire?


To answer that question let’s examine the nature of growth. If we take a Darwinian perspective, we find that evolution is a glacially slow process…one that spans centuries if not millennia.

If we take a more humanistic view, neuroscientists tell us that human beings’ brains don’t fully mature until their mid-twenties. Even in the 1800s when shorter life spans dictated that teens take on adult roles, we find the need for more than a decade of growth was essential for these teens to succeed.

Using a business perspective, as my young friend was doing, we find that growth isn’t the trend line so often indicated graphically. Instead growth is a jagged line of ups and downs extending on both sides of the trend line.

The jagged line implies that growth is more like the old adage “one step forward, two steps back.” We gain ground with growth, then lose some again as we approach the next level of growth.

As a business consultant I saw this time and again. One of the measures I monitored for my clients was revenue growth per direct labor dollar. For the non-financial among us that simply means that I was dividing revenues by the dollars spent to pay production staff. That’s a quick and dirty measure of productivity of your production folks. Similar comparisons could be made for any labor category.

Regardless of the company or industry, what I saw was precisely the same. When graphed growth looked more like a set of stairs…if that growth was controlled.

In other words, a company could grow revenues until it taxed its labor force’s capacity to produce, then the company would have to add to the workforce which would drive up costs and lower profits until revenue growth caught up with labor capacity.

As I thought about my young friend’s desire for massive growth I realized that this stair step growth pattern applies to all aspects of our lives. We grow, then we have to get comfortable with our newfound abilities before we can move onto the next growth spurt.

It’s the “quiet” period between growth spurts that solidifies our abilities…the root structure of what we just learned. It’s an essential time in our growth and, unfortunately, one we all too often want to bypass. For it’s in this quiet time that the growth we experienced become second nature to us…assuring the continuation of what we learned into the future.

For you

The next time you feel the desire for a dramatic push in your personal, professional or financial growth, remind yourself of stair steps. The rise from one step to another is the period in which you get comfortable with your newfound growth.

Fail to allow for the rise and you’re likely to stumble and fall. Allow yourself the time for growth to gain strength in preparation for the next growth spurt and you’ll move forward confidently and with greater strength and ease.

For our kids

Kids suffer the same impatience (if not an accelerated one) as ours. Use the insights above to teach them about growth and they too will learn the value of controlled growth over massive growth.

Oh, by the way, if you live this message your kids are more likely to believe what you’re telling them.

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