By: Tabitha A. Scott, CEM, CDSM, a partner at Epic Pivot with 20+ years of global leadership in investments, innovation and transformation.
Your company will never keep up by chasing change. With today’s fast-forward pace, I believe the most productive thing an organization can do is hit pause. Taking a break to identify your company’s current position along its growth curve can provide valuable insights and help you prioritize actions for today, as well as define the best path for tomorrow.
How can utilizing a growth curve guide future-forward companies to compete amid an environment of accelerating change and uncertainty? Like the rhythms of all life, organizations follow the same cycles of birth, growth, maturity and decline. A growth curve maps each phase, which is replicated during every new strategic direction, product launch and project sprint. It serves as a bridge between creativity and efficiency, opportunity and risk, startup and stability—with each phase having distinctive needs for success.
The Pace And The Past
Even before the pandemic, the accelerating pace of change left many feeling off balance and burned out. Now, in its aftermath, “systems overload” doesn’t even begin to describe the fatigue people are feeling as they struggle to adapt in the face of so many unpredictable twists and turns.
Many are longing for the “normalcy” they experienced pre-Covid. They’re looking in the rearview mirror, but we must find ways to adapt to this new world and keep moving forward. But how can leaders adapt and move forward without creating even more disruption?
Start with breaking the rearview mirror. Because they are moving so fast, and things can get distorted upon reflection, NASCAR ditched the rearview mirrors in its next generation of racecars to reveal a more accurate perspective with real-time cameras instead. Similarly, the leadership practices and tools that helped companies navigate successfully up until now cannot guide them as powerfully into the future.
In the past, leadership was like a leisurely commute—the destination was clear, and there was time to react to unforeseen obstacles as they arose. The pace of change today is like driving 100 miles per hour on the information speedway. What used to be linear, cause-and-effect planning is now akin to chaos theory with nonstop social and technological disruptions in increasingly unpredictable markets.
We see up to 10,000 ads per day, which translates to over 3.65 million new inputs per person each year, creating systems overload on both a conscious and subconscious level. Our minds have not evolved quickly enough, and it’s changing the ways we interact. In fact, a study from Microsoft states that our attention span has dropped by a third since the year 2000. Because today’s pace of change has already surpassed our ability to keep up, I believe that finding ways to drive faster is simply no longer enough.
The Pause And The Future
One solution to finding your competitive edge is to look at how bioscience deals with the constant need to evolve. Companies behave like living things, and especially when it comes to the universally shared purpose of growth, they are no different than plants, animals or people. One important attribute defines success for all types of growth: the process of increasing along the recurring and predictable cycle of birth, growth, maturity and decline.
While the ongoing cycle is fluid, and an increase can be measured in a myriad of ways, including by profits, value, size or market share, the primary goal of a business is to maximize each phase of the growth curve while moving successfully into the next one.
Nature’s growth curve is the ultimate predictor and amplifier of success because it prioritizes the strategy needed during each phase of growth. The leadership, challenges and needs will be different based on the cycle the company is in at the time. A company’s sustainable success depends entirely upon how effectively they navigate from one phase of the cycle to the next.
The following phases of the growth curve, as well as their attributes, needs and strategic planning concerns, can help give a summarized example of this dynamic in business.
- Attributes: Startup organizations.
- Needs: Secure funding, form a team that quickly adapts to market signals and recovers from failures, utilize ongoing testing and find leaders who can naturally anticipate future wants/needs.
- Strategic Planning Concerns: Identify sustainable growth opportunities and define a clear business model and business plan.
- Attributes: Organizations with established and tested ideas that are expanding.
- Needs: Establish a unique business model, scale operations, establish profitability and find leaders who can anticipate the future and understand the context of existing market constraints.
- Strategic Planning Concerns: Adapt the business plan to market as well as establish and clarify brand identity.
- Attributes: Organizations that are profitable and have a recognizable brand.
- Needs: Refine the business model, improve operational efficiencies, establish streamlined processes and find leaders who can maximize profitability and protect the brand.
- Strategic Planning Concerns: Consider rebirth or exit strategies and seek leaders who align with that decision.
- Attributes: Organizations that are no longer increasing (in size, profitability or measures of importance).
- Needs: Determine feasibility for continuity, minimize risks and find leaders who can invigorate (innovation, sales, marketing, etc.) or divest (mergers, acquisitions, etc.).
- Strategic Planning Concerns: Identify an exit strategy that will restart the growth cycle or divest and eliminate the organization.
Companies are like complex organisms that are powered by human energy. As leaders, we can turn to the natural stages of growth to identify the most important decisions we can make today while planning for tomorrow.
This article was originally published as part of the Forbes Business Council, an invitation-only organization for successful executives.