One of the numbers that many people watch closely about the short term future of business is the annual growth rate in the U.S. This year, at least unadjusted, we saw a slowdown in 4th quarter, and slow start at the beginning of the year. These kind of statistics always bring up the question on many business people’s minds – how are we going to grow this year? Typical answers include more sales, better products, cutting edge services, expanding marketing channels, etc. These are still critical to growth, but a very different set of ideas for growth is emerging because we are in an interconnected world. Let me explain.
My first business leadership position was managing a greenhouse nursery, therefore growth of plants was as important as growth in revenues and profits in this place. When you grow things in greenhouses, what becomes important are the external conditions necessary for each type of plant to grow, which they will do naturally if the conditions are right. You cannot push a plant to grow faster (very much) but it is necessary to pay attention to the external environment around the plant. Growth of organizations in an interconnected world a parallel set of ideas that go beyond the traditional ways to grow mentioned above. Why is this different than a typical pattern in business?
- Competition now can come from so many other places than used to, and disruption is a very common reality.
- Increasing pace of change means at best you can have temporary advantage, not permanent competitive advantage in a vast majority of cases, and obsolescence is a very real concern.
- Rather than linear value chains, value is often created by bundling products and services together.
To grow, therefore, you must pay attention to the external environment and the rapid volatility. At least four major ways are present today to continue to grow as an organization, involving the external environment in every case:
- Discovery Driven Growth as we have discussed in the past, means an organization must be continually experimenting with new products and services to be prepared to adapt to this fluctuating environment.
- Growth can come from a remix strategy where various types of relationships with other types of organizations that can be synergized together to offer something even greater than either organization can apart.
- Growth can come through human centered design, where organizations are always monitoring the customer interface to recognize nuances to tailor make and personalize products and services to specific audiences.
- Growth can also come from facilitating conversations on platforms, where customers co-create the future products and services with your organization.
The one metaphor that applies to all of these new interconnected ways and types of growth is the human body, not a machine, or a linear assembly line, or even a think tank of experts. All of these require a sensory system for organizations to listen to the market and respond, they require a communication system to collaborate and synergize with others. They require a muscular/nervous system that can adapt and try new things that allow them to learn and grow. It reminds me of 1 Corinthians 12: 4- 6:
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
All these types of works, gifts, and service now are recombined, tailored, and developed by trial and error to stay competitive in an interconnected world. They all are meant to work together for the common good.
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