When I read the HBR article here: https://hbr.org/2020/02/why-de-growth-shouldnt-scare-businesses I had one of those moments. Read about why de-growth might not be such a bad thing after all.
When I was a child I was totally happy. I lived in a small house in the black country, in a not too pretty road, looking out across the flats that rose over us. We literally lived in their shadow. We played with the kids in those flats but we didn’t dare enter the flats. Even back then there was a feeling that these buildings would suck you into their soullessness. There was no snobbery on the playground I must assure you. If anything the kids in those flats were cool because they were street-wise and interesting but even at that age I could tell where the boundary was between hope and despair. Even then I was aware that if the hole was big enough and deep enough, a person might never get out of it.
And so it is in business. There is always a hole you might never get out of however smart, lucky, professional, likeable, etc etc you are. And the 80’s kids amongst us, the Gen Xers, have pretty much been brain-washed that you “sell, sell, sell” and you “grow, grow, grow”.
But there was something they never taught us. Nothing continues to grow endlessly. Countries do not become more and more productive over time. Look at Japan. Arguably the most innovative country in the world. People don’t simply get richer and richer with no interruption in their fortune. If they appear to, they are either very lucky or very dishonest. For in the dice we roll, for longer-term benefits, there is always a short term sacrifice.
And so it is with many things. The planet. We cannot go on in the same way and expect a different outcome. We can be smarter and change our habits but the re-dress will be painful for some, make no mistake. To stop chopping down rainforests we need to wean ourselves off palm oil, to go electric we must wean ourselves off the internal combustion engine. What about classic cars? What about the roar of an engine? What about chocolate? For everything, we win we inevitably lose at the same time. The question is whether the equation of sacrifice and gain eventually tips in our favour.
Maybe all this is why 80’s actors like Richard Gere got into Buddhism. https://www.lionsroar.com/impermanence-is-buddha-nature-embrace-changemay-2012/. The concept of impermanence called anicca (Pāli) or anitya (Sanskrit) is that everything is subject to change. The body is finite and will eventually die. Moments of suffering can be fleeting only because moments of joy are also fleeting too.
So the idea that business, or projects, products, or careers will continue on an upward trajectory with no interruptions or culd-de-sacs is as absurd from a practical perspective as it is from an Eastern philosophical perspective.
Eventually, they demolished those flats. And the people within them moved into brand new maisonettes. They were almost in the same place. Meanwhile, at 21, as a graduate, I found myself living part-time with an unemployed musician in a block of flats down the road. How times had changed. Now it was my turn to stand in a dodgy smelling lift in a cheap suit.
So just think, right now about your “de-growth” time. You may even be having it now, or just come out of it. Is your life richer for the good times or for the bad? Is your business better for the highs or for the lows?
The journey to clarity may not be comfortable but when you travelled there on the bus, the limousine is all the more satisfying.
Don’t beat yourself up in the troughs. Think about how you can re-group with the space given to you by the silence of failure.