Relentless Growth – in what universe is that healthy?

Is the increase of purpose driven organisations a challenge to endless growth?


I hold a profound belief that we can pivot our energy and therefore that of the world around us if we take the time and find the courage to challenge some of the basic premises that we base our life choices on. This blog draws on the work of David Pilling in his book the Growth Delusion.


One of the key ideas in this book is an invitation for us to challenge the premise or paradigm of economic growth itself. I see a link to Pilling’s challenge of the virtues of economic growth and the increasing number of organisations I see seeking to establish their unique purpose.


“Without a sense of purpose, no company, either public or private, can achieve its full potential. It will ultimately lose the license to operate from key stakeholders.” – Larry Fink, CEO, BlackRock 2018


In The Growth Delusion, Pilling prompted me to wonder – Is our paradigm on growth actually killing us? As he says, economic growth is a major premise on which we base most of our lives. What I like about this simple statement is the reminder that economic growth is indeed a premise which we owe it to ourselves to challenge and question. It is critical that we do this, not least because of the myriad of connected beliefs and assumptions we create on the back of our unchallenged pursuit of economic growth.


Only in economics is endless expansion seen as a virtue and we are therefore encouraged to give up and sacrifice a huge amount in the pursuit of this growth including our environment, mental well-being and the connections within our societies. In biological terms endless growth can lead to cancer – are we actually in the business of creating cancer of the mind?


In many senses it may be more helpful to see economic growth as one enabler rather than the purpose itself. I have noticed over the last two years in particular that I am getting an increasing number of organisations coming to me to help them identify their organisations purpose. I would assert that they are seeking purpose as they have seen that economic growth for endless higher profit targets is not a sustainable motivator to organise people around.


What is your organisations purpose? Is everyone in your organisation inspired by and aligned to that purpose? If not, I would encourage you to take your organisation on a journey to identify your purpose and while doing that develop your culture and leaders. By designing a process that achieves purpose and aligns culture and leadership you don’t have to then create an implementation plan that, with the best will in the world, is difficult to authentically engage everyone in. And beware – purpose is not a strapline!


One of the projects I have recently supported was with a Scandinavian mid-size organisation. They were passionate about ensuring their long-term ability to make a profound difference in society and saw that for historic reasons they operated in quite distinct silos. This meant that they were not as impactful in the short or long term as they could be. By focusing on understanding the deeply held assumptions that drove the silo approach along with leadership having the courage to dream big and bold they achieved a number of things in one process. They have a purpose that is bold, inspiring and provides clear direction. They have created one culture based on the strengths of everyone in their organisation. Through this process the Leadership Team have challenged themselves to think about what it means to lead a purpose driven organisation – and they now seek to grow their impact in powerful and sustainable ways.


Do take the time to dip into the Growth Delusion and as you do, I encourage you to ask of your organisation:


Do we have a uniting purpose to provide us with a life-giving focus for the future?