Years ago, I had the chance to sit with a writer for Inc Magazine at a luncheon. He was going on about the importance of continuous growth to business success. Everyone else at the table was head-nodding agreement. I told him that I thought statements like that were contributing to the downfall of American business. I told him that I didn’t believe the choice was “Grow or Die.” I told him that I believed there were lots of other possibilities, and that many people running successful businesses that were not growing were becoming disenchanted with their work because they keep hearing that “grow or die” mantra.
He smiled the kind of smile that people who are sure they’re smarter than you tend to smile. The rest of the table, however, had stopped head-bobbing and leaned forward to hear how he was going to put me in my place. He started, but I cut him off by asking if he’d ever run a business of any kind. When he admitted that he had not, I asked why he was trying to ruin it for the people who were running good solid businesses. In the end, this idea of grow or die has contributed to the morass our economy sits in. Too many people gave up because they weren’t succeeding, even though they were doing quite well and enjoying themselves.
I recently read a book called Small Giants. In it, the author makes my point. Continuous growth is not the objective of most businesses. People start businesses for lots of different reasons. Being the biggest in their industry is usually not one of them. My company grows — not as continuously as I’d like — but it grows smartly. We get new business and sometimes jetison some old. We are looking for a balance of goods: good staff, good customers, good products and services. Together these form a recipe for good life.