November 29, 2005
What's the book about?
Growth is not about getting bigger. It’s about progress, forward movement, stretching beyond the limits that currently define and constrain. Real growth involves reaching full potential, not maximum size. It happens when old dominating ideas are challenged, and new ones displace them. Growth means progress, not excess; it is fueled by imagination, not expansion.
Too often growth has become confused with one of its by-products, expansion. Getting bigger may be a by-product of growth, but it is not its main feature. A business that takes the short-cut of pursuing size increase directly – instead of realizing it through the hard work of real growth – is like an athlete taking the steroid route to muscle building.
Bigness is like self-esteem. It is a wonderful feeling when acquired as a by-product of doing well and achieving one’s goals. When gotten this way, it can even serve as a flywheel to generate more success. But the kind of self-esteem that comes from blind optimism and putting a happy face on failure is brittle and unanchored. It tends to do more harm than good.
Why isn’t bigger necessarily better? Bigness begets business bubbles and bullies. It bites back, too. A single-minded focus on getting bigger usually has the opposite effect. Companies that successfully seek it soon find their surroundings become less hospitable, resources less abundant and organizations less functional. At some point it is important for every rapidly expanding organization to ask: where does real business-building end and counterproductive empire-building take its place?