Scaling vs Growth
Scaling is growth, multiplied
As a people, since around the industrial revolution, we have been focused on scaling. This has meant scaling manufacturing, our small businesses, and most recently – start ups. On the most part scaling and hyper growth have been synonymous. But when is growth too fast? When is it not sustainable? Should we set a healthy limit to scale to?
I see scaling and growth as two separate, yet intrinsically connected things.
Growth can be done at both the individual and group level. An individual's growth is not black or white, it is not linear. One can lose something or fail, yet grow. On a personal level growth is abstract.
At the level of a business, growth is linked to a numeric value. It can be sales, net income, head count within the business, etc. If any of these are negative or trending negative, growth is not being achieved.
I think this is incorrect. We humans are so interconnected to our jobs, admittedly more than we should be. We identify our job with who we are as people. This means that if we are not growing at work or in our business, we feel like we are not growing as people. Growth can, and should be divided. We can both be growing as people and growing as workers or business owners.
Growth in ones’ job should not be so necessary either. Just because one is doing well, does not mean one wants to move up. Being an individual contributor is perfectly fine. The goal does not have to be c-suite or even management. You can be great at your job and stay in it.
The idea of scaling – growth 10x’d, has been immortalized since people have invested in a business's growth. In modern days, this happens most in venture capital. An investor wants a return on their investment and quickly. The magic number is usually 10x their investment and they usually want this within 10 years. This means that both business owners and contributors need to grow at a hyper rate. And since growth, in practical terms is linear, we are expected to 10x everything we do.
To be clear, I am 100% a proponent of growth, but only at the individual level, because it is abstract. Growth at the group level and specifically scaling growth is not good for us as people. The amount of stress and pressure that is undertaken while trying to scale is unhealthy and unsustainable – regardless of what your favorite hustle culture influencer says.
We need time, space, and agency to grow at our own paces. We need to be able to get better and worse at things, without being vilified for it.
As an example, I have been freelance for nearly a year. I have made personal projects, consulted, and contracted for people and companies. Throughout this year, I have low-key interviewed for a handful of jobs. All of them have been a 180 degree shift from what I was doing as Head of Product. Regardless of me being great at my job, I hated it. I don’t want to go back to doing anything remotely similar. This means that all the roles I have interviewed for have been polar opposite.
In all of these interviews I have heard a mix of – you are overqualified, this is an individual contributor role, this is very different from what you were previously doing. My response to all of that has been – “yes, that is what I want”. I have been ridiculed for wanting to grow backward or start anew.
As The Great Resignation continues to happen, I see a lot of people wanting a seismic shift in their career. We should not be forced to stay on a path due to it being linear, we should be able to take a detour or turn around.
The idea of scaling and constant growth is not good for us or the world we populate. This need for more – burns us out and consumes all of our natural resources. There needs to be a limit. It needs to be ok with slowing down or even stopping. We feel like we always need more, rather than cultivating what we have.
Before you take on that next client, take that promotion, or scale your company against the odds – consider the ramifications. Is it not sustainable, is it not healthy, is it destructive? If it is, consider another option. If it isn’t, move forward. Never hesitate to slow down or to restart.
Scaling is growth, multiplied. But we don’t need to grow linearly. We can diverge, maybe even stop.
This week on Async Chats – I chatted with David Hoang. I’d love it if you gave it a read! We chat all about hustle culture.