Friday, April 04, 2008

Grow or die

The title is a rough quotation from an interview I read by a CEO recently. It doesn't matter who it was; it's a common business notion, I sense.

I understand the sentiment, really I do. There is a real fear that, if we don't grow, we'll be overtaken by those who do grow. Or that we'll become stagnant and stale.

Yet I'm mindful that, if we all grow, we'll surely die (or at least suffer), too. Read Limits to Growth, if you're uncertain about my statement. Note that "limits to growth" in that book is not a statement of an environmentalist's hope; it's a statement of fact. We will face limits to growth. We can choose the nature of those limits (or at least we have had the chance), but stop growing we will. You can't exceed the carrying capacity of an environment forever.

So, if it's true that we all (or most all) want to grow (our companies, our houses, ...), and if it's true that we will face (and are already facing) real limits to that growth, what do we do?

I've written about growth a number of times, but I admit that I don't have all or even many of the answers yet. Perhaps I'll find out more in the next few months, for I'm co-teaching a systems thinking course at Bainbridge Graduate Institute.

If you're not familiar with BGI yet, their vision is "To infuse environmentally and socially responsible business innovation into general business practice by transforming business education," and they've got a good reputation in this area.

As I did when I taught system dynamics at the University of Washington, I suspect I'll learn a lot here, this time with a distinct focus on sustainability and business. I'm really looking forward to this experience. (And, as I did last time, I will refrain from telling you anything that goes on in class unless I have explicit permission, but I may tell you a bit about how I grew.)

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Blogger Dave Gardner said...

Bill, I'm really glad to see your post. We need more guys like you to help unwind the twisted logic our society has developed about growth. I haven't had a chance to go back and look at your other posts about growth, but I'm excited to run across you.

I'm producing a documentary exploring this very issue. The mythology surrounding our obsession with growth is fascinating (and disconcerting).

Dave Gardner
Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity

05 April, 2008 17:59  
Blogger Bill Harris said...

Dave, thanks for stopping by, and thanks for the comments. When you get a minute, check out the links in my posting; I'd be curious in your feedback.

I checked out a bit of your Web site; it appears you're doing some interesting work. Keep in touch.

05 April, 2008 20:03  
Blogger fortboise said...

I'm reminded me of a now "ancient" essay I wrote on the subject of growth. It doesn't deal with the issue of stocks and flows, but the confusion between rates, and rates of change is a related phenomenon.

16 April, 2008 22:37  
Blogger Bill Harris said...

Thanks for dropping by and contributing your essay to the conversation. It puts a human voice on the idea of growth, and it seems related to my earlier essay called S-curves, growth, and discerning your position, except you point out that all mature entities may be at a stage where growth signals trouble.

17 April, 2008 07:15  

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