One of the biggest barriers I see to growth, whether it is personal growth or business growth, is not inability to move forward, but the inability to go backwards. The reason for this paradox is very simple. Progress isn’t linear. You can’t move forward in a smooth upward curve; sometimes you need to go backwards before you can go forwards. Take some examples.
First example; the manager or leader who can’t delegate. We have all seen this, the leader who has become the biggest bottleneck in their organisation. Nothing can happen without their say-so. The staff are frustrated, the leader is burning out, the business is suffering. “I just can’t trust anyone to do anything right” says the leader. “He won’t trust us with anything” say the staff. Now the fact is, delegation skills are not that hard to teach or to learn. You can reduce most of it to a step-by-step process if you want. The reason people don’t delegate isn’t because they can’t learn how to do it. It’s because they can’t handle the transition from controlling everything to trusting others. Inevitably, there is some anxiety about how people will perform when you start giving them more responsibility and autonomy. Things will get a little worse before they start getting better. If you can’t live with that, you won’t ever get better.
Second example, at the organisational level. Any business will, at some point, find that it can’t keep growing profits every year. The world will change and it will need to transform itself. This transformation pulls profits down in the short term. Consider the two most egregious recent examples of transition failure, where a world leader was destroyed by a failure to make an obviously necessary transition; Nokia with the smartphone and Kodak with digital photography. There was a common factor in both of these stories. A dominant company found its future threatened by a new development. To deal with this new development, it needed to step down from its pedestal and start scrabbling around with the other competitors. It couldn’t maintain its effortless superiority; for a time at least it had to be just one of the crowd. Could Nokia have obtained as dominant a position in smartphones as it had in the previous generation of handsets? Could Kodak have dominated digital photography as did chemical film? The answer was very probably not, but that question misses the point. The choice was not between “maintain our dominance in the old world” and “scrabble to establish ourselves in some way in the new world.” That first option didn’t exist. The choice was between “scrabble to establish ourselves in some way in the new world” and “cease to exist.” That was the reality they chose to ignore, simply because they couldn’t go backwards, not even to save their lives.
For any business or any individual, the path to growth will sometimes take you backwards. This is the moment of decision. Are you ready?
For more, check out Alastair Dryburgh’s white paper and video Finding the Path Back to Growth.