What is growth?

In my view, growth (whether personal or business) often involves paradoxical situations or experiences, such as the need to let go of old beliefs and habits in order to embrace new ones, or the importance of facing challenges and setbacks in order to grow stronger and more resilient.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines the verb to grow as

to increase in size or amount, or to become more advanced or developed

Growth is a word we use in every day conversation assuming that the meaning is well understood. Yes, the dictionary definition is a good start but I tend to think about growth in a different way.

In physics there is a concept of entropy. I’m no physicist but the way I understand it is that entropy relates to the amount of disorder in a system. The universe is in a gradual state of increasing entropy, it is trending towards decay and disorder.  In other words, all other things being equal, things will decay. To keep anything going in a steady state needs energy and attention. A human being needs feeding and a golf green needs mowing. A car needs servicing and a dog needs exercise. Without these, decay happens. Growth however, is more than standing still. It’s moving forwards and ahead, it’s keeping the steady state going and going further. If it takes energy to stand still, it takes even more to move ahead.

A business succeeds if (at a minimum) it has a product or service to sell to customers that meets their needs. Given that technology, the market, customer needs and trading conditions change on a daily basis, a business needs to continually adapt to maintain it’s performance.  That requires energy and investment.  As any swimmer will know, treading water still takes energy and effort. To swim requires additional effort and so does growth.

I see this to be the case on a personal level too. Staying relevant and being skilled for the work needed requires continual effort. Without effort we will decay. I know that if I had the skills I had 30 years ago I would not be able to succeed in today’s world doing the job I had 30 years ago. To move ahead means staying up to date and developing new skills and experience above and beyond keeping up.

Growth therefore is winning against entropy. If you agree with me, then you’ll also understand that it is only a temporary gain. No company survives forever and neither will you or I. However, paradoxically it’s the only meaningful approach to life. Choose decay, choose treading water or choose growth. At least with growth you can leave something behind for future generations. However - it’s the hard path, not the easy life.

Why does a child build a sand castle on the beach? Moreover, why do adults? I love creating a sand castle if I go to a sandy beach. I know very well that the tide will destroy my creation but the creativity is it’s own reward. Such is life. We build our metaphorical sandcastles knowing that the tide will sweep everything away.

Throughout my 30+ year career, I’ve discovered that the journey towards growth is never-ending. The more I’ve learned and achieved, the more I’ve realised how much there is still left to accomplish. The more we know, the more we realise we don’t know.

Growth inevitably involves discomfort. It involves taking risks and facing into the wind, choosing the more difficult path. Growth is never easy, it’s always hard-won.

Sporting champions are often the athletes prepared to train harder and to suffer more than any of their competitors. Successful start ups are few and far between. More than two-thirds never deliver a positive return to their investors. The ones that do work incredibly hard (and smart) to win. Founders are passionate about their cause and will suffer to succeed. In fact, the word passion is derived from the latin word passio which means to suffer and endure.

I’ve learnt that some of the biggest growth opportunities that I’ve had on a personal level also involved some kind of suffering, either taking on emotional risk, working through a crisis or facing into a problem rather than shying away from it. Growth is never handed to you on a plate.

For me, growth is a decrease in entropy, an increase in value or an increase in capability.

What does it mean to you?

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