Happy New Year!
Did you start 2010 with a fresh set of objectives?
Grow profits; drive revenues; increase the margin.
Do you have any objectives that aren’t about making more money than you made in 2009?
When it comes to measuring success, we often make comparisons to the past.
Companies look at how profits changed relative to previous periods.
Individuals might compare their earnings to previous roles.
Even charities look at the changes in donations received.
By most definitions, we haven’t succeeded unless we’ve grown, and in business, this invariably relates to financial growth.
Indeed, financial growth is often a business’s primary objective, to the extent that any gains are reinvested to generate yet more growth in the next period.
But why are we so obsessed with growth?
Growth vs. greed
In nature, the drive to grow is instinctive: we need to reach a certain size to survive and procreate.
However, unrestrained growth brings dangerous consequences: excess leads to obesity, slowing us down and compromising our health.
In the good times, this doesn’t matter too much, because there’s enough to go round.
But, eventually, excess becomes unsustainable: over-consumption results in scarcity of resources and intense competition.
When this happens, the obese are most at risk: their size makes it harder for them to secure food and escape predators.
They face a stark choice: redress the balance, or die.
Survival of the fittest
This pattern is obvious in nature, but we often miss the parallel in business.
However, just like animals, brands can’t continue to grow indefinitely: eventually, they either reach a healthy equilibrium, or they exhaust all the available resources and die.
Faced with that choice, the decision seems simple.
Sometimes, though, scarcity occurs quite suddenly.
Just a few years ago, newspapers were enjoying those ‘good times’.
Then, out of nowhere, a fitter species appeared and gobbled up all their resources.
Sadly, the newspapers were too obese – too complacent, too cumbersome, too bloated – to react in time.
Now they’re starving, on the brink of extinction.
Their demise holds a lesson for us all.
Fit for purpose
The trick to avoiding newspapers’ fate is stay fit and healthy.
One way to do this is to avoid excessive growth.
So, if your objectives for year ahead are based purely on growth, challenge them.
What’s all that growth for?
And what will you do when you achieve it?
All too often, the euphoria of achieving a growth goal quickly gives way to a desire to outdo yourself again.
It becomes a never-ending cycle; increasing the number becomes the only thing that matters.
But there’s got to be more to life than numbers.
We need to remember the real benefits that growth was supposed to bring.
What would success look like if you couldn’t grow anymore?
Better, not bigger
Most New Year’s resolutions relate to health and fitness.
Perhaps it’s time we set similar business resolutions too.
I’d like to start the year with a challenge:
Why not set one objective for 2010 that has nothing to do with financial growth?
How about play rises instead of pay rises? More time to do the things that feed your souls, not just your bank balances (think Google’s 20%).
Perhaps you could initiate pro bono work for issues you really care about? Rather than waiting for someone to ask you, just get on and do it.
Or, why not take on an intern and actually help them to learn useful skills? With a bit of guidance, enthusiastic graduates can do much more than just make coffee and photocopies, and you’ll feel rewarded too.
Whatever you decide, one thing will make achieving your goal easier:
Stop measuring your success by comparing yourself to others.
Innovate, don’t imitate.
It’s much easier to succeed when you write your own rules.
Good luck, and best wishes for a happy and fulfilling 2010!