First, though, a reminder of the second law of thermodynamics.
The natural state of everything is decay. That includes business. So we shouldn't be surprised when our processes get sloppy, our products look old, and our enthusiasm for doing more of the same dims. But we can't allow it - we have to keep advancing, renewing, rebuilding. The only way for a business to thrive long term is to keep pressing uphill. And the goal that forces us holistically uphill is Growth.
That is reason enough. But many of us have additional reasons to strive for growth: expectant investors, unprofitable operations, poor cash flow, a boss who Says So, or just the compelling belief that we can do better. The net effect is that the fundamental challenge for most leaders in business is to achieve profitable, sustainable growth.
I've had the chance to work - both from the inside and the outside - with a diverse range of businesses. Whether they were publicly-traded or private, young or old, conservative or aggressive, they were pursuing growth. They had the core objective in common, but not much else. They had different cultures, employed different models, served different markets, used different strategies and tactics... and experienced different levels of success and failure.
As I watched and worked with such companies, two things became clear:
- Just doing something was no guarantee of growth.
- Doing what had worked for someone else was no guarantee of growth.
You have your own examples of businesses that spin their wheels trying to grow. They're trying, but their effort is wasted. And you also know companies - maybe your own - that can't replicate some other organization's success. You're working with different context, so you can't just do what Steve Jobs did.
Every business has its own unique reality, I realized, and that reality is comprised of invisible but powerful forces that define the unique shape of its opportunities. The better we understand our reality, the more we align our efforts with that reality, the more effective our actions. Now how can we go about doing that?
We need some kind of tool or framework that helps us figure it out. And since our goal is to grow, not to think about growth, it needs to make sense, promptly, so we can get from thinking about our unique situation to taking action. Enter 8 Blocks: The Critical Realities For Growing Any Business.
8 Blocks, which arrives December 7th from GamePlan Press (Arlington, VA), is based on a very pragmatic framework that I developed and use with my clients. Four of the realities are internal - they're about the business. Four are external - they're about the markets we serve. Looking at our unique reality in these eight ways allows us to identify our best opportunities, and define actions that give us our best shot at growth.
8 Blocks also gives us tools to figure out how we're doing along the way. When we understand why we chose the actions we did, and how we expect them to work, we can better evaluate our progress. If our efforts haven't paid off yet, we know whether they deserve more time, or that it's time to change course. When a course change is necessary, we can evaluate the moving parts in our assumptions and plans to figure out how to adapt our efforts.
The book is new, but the concepts stand the tests of time and diversity of application. Over and over I've seen businesses fail to grow because their efforts are incongruent with one or more of these critical realities. Those that succeed do so because they work - whether by luck or design - within the unique shape of their constraints and opportunities.