Why is growth good?

Seattle skyline
Something to think about….

I was at an event the other night, on the future of Seattle hosted by our Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship at the Impact Hub in downtown Seattle. The moderator was one of Foster’s own Marketing Professors, Jeff Shulman.

It seems obvious to most anyone that Seattle is growing very fast, just witness all of the cranes in downtown, as Professor Shulman asked the audience to do last night.  During the discussion, there were many points raised about how Seattle could successfully take on an additional 1 million residents over the next 20 years, without inadvertently creating the type of eco-system we see in other regions of the world, where high tech jobs dominate oftentimes creating a have and have not community. We might ask, is the world looking to Seattle to build a better city?

At one point, a young man in the audience who had brought his even younger son, asked the panel to think about why growth is good? Could we be satisfied with tempering our growth, perhaps exporting it elsewhere to benefit less fortunate cities?

The reactions to his comments ranged from… we have to have growth to build our city, to one panel member saying, growth is something I worry about all of the time. It amazes me that one of the key factors that tends to kill many new and established organizations is unbridled growth. This should lead us to ask, ‘How do we lead organizations going through dramatic spurts of growth?’  Do we know how to be agile and lean with incredibly fast growth as compared to say, declining organizations?

Consider: Growth can be infinite. Decline can go to zero.

We should ask, which is harder to lead? We know very little about how to lead in high op tempo growth companies and tempering growth may not seem as desirable as evident by the reactions of panel members. Yet, what’s wrong with slow, steady growth? Would it slow down the creation of rich and poor in our communities? Would it mitigate traffic?  Would it help us to build sustainable infrastructure that can stay up with growth? Or, should we just grow fast, crash, rebuild, grow fast, crash, rebuild…

Perhaps if we can get growth right, we wouldn’t have to spend as much time getting people to think about how to lead us out of crises and decline.  And let me be clear, I am not against growth….that makes sense.

In rowing, you can get up to 43 or 44 strokes a minute, but you cannot sustain that level for too long…maybe 6-8 minutes, and that may be all the swing you get. Perhaps, we should consider, what is swing in terms of the growth of our city and broader community?

This blog post was written by Bruce Avolio, a professor of management, the Mark Pigott Chair in Business Strategic Leadership, and the Director of the Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking.

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