Growing In to Your Identity

What would happen to your business if you didn’t use the word “growth” in 2009? Wait, that’s what planning for the future is all about, isn’t it? “Grow or die” is what you’ve been told. What if that’s wrong?


As I did my own planning for 2009 I found myself falling into the growth trap: an income increase target of $xx, a goal to add $xx revenue from my website. I was doing the “what” first, figuring I would determine the “how” after I came up with my targets. As I worked on the what and the how, I became uncomfortable with the entire growth-for-growth’s-sake strategy. Something didn’t feel right. It occurred to me that it’s not about what or how, instead the future is about “who” and “why.” More on those two items shortly.

I’m not proposing a stay-right-where-you-are strategy. To paraphrase Will Rogers, “standing still is a good way to get run over.” But moving up does not necessarily mean progress. Growth is not the opposite of stagnation. There’s a seldom-discussed casualty of growth: your identity.

Growth & Greatness

During the process of expanding to hit pre-determined growth targets, you may lose the uniqueness that made you successful. It happened to Starbucks. Howard Schultz and company created an upscale experience built on Schultz’s passion for coffee & culture. Then Starbucks went public, requiring it to grow every year. So they artificially inflated revenue by opening too many stores. That strategy failed and now they have decided to overwhelm customers with an endless stream of product introductions. The goal? Sell more stuff. In the process, Starbucks is no longer Starbucks. They’ve grown out of their identity.

Rather than a strategy of growth, why not adopt a strategy of moving forward (progression). It’s called the greatness strategy. Growth strategy is about the what and how questions. Greatness strategy answers the who and why questions. Specifically; who you are and why you exist. Planning for the future means going back to the start.

Do you remember why you started your business? What was your original vision? What was the passion that fueled your entrepreneurial engine? You had a dream to offer something valuable and unique. You believed you could do what you did better than anyone else. Did that vision get lost in all the growth?

Navigating The Future

Every year is a journey. Let’s imagine it’s December 31st, 2009. Rather than hitting some arbitrary sales figure, you have reached a destination far more exciting: your vision! You have become the very best at what you do. You have created value far beyond what customers had expected. You have achieved recognition for outstanding service and a unique experience. How did you arrive at your vision?

Your business is not a revenue stream or a cash-flow conduit. Your business is the vehicle in which you will take that journey. It’s the transportation mode that moves you from goal to accomplishment. What form of transportation will that be? A big powerful locomotive? A sleek sports car? The vehicle you choose is the character of your business.

Now you need an engine: your purpose. It’s what makes your business go. Why do you exist? Not to just sell stuff. Customers won’t buy that. But they will ride on your purpose and buy your passion. You’re here to fulfill some greater need.

Engines don’t run by themselves, they need fuel: your passion. What gets you excited? When the road gets rough and economic detours arrive unexpectedly, you will need passion to push forward.

Planning Questions for 2009 – Mapping Your Greatness

  1. What is my passion?
  2. What is my vision?
  3. What is my purpose?
  4. What is the character of my business?
  5. What can I do that will be great?

As you map out your journey for 2009, forget the sales increase goals. Forget the expansion goals. Replace those goals with vision, purpose and passion goals. Map for greatness not growth. Growth will be a byproduct of natural demand for your greatness. And that will be naturally profitable.

Recommended book reading on greatness over growth:
Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big

Related articles on going for greatness:
Nine Compulsions That Keep Your Brand Mired in the pack
Branding is About Self Discovery
Are You Breaking The Law of Focus? Learn From My Mistake

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