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Your humble

[yeah, right]

correspondent, BadConsultant, was thinking of growth this morning

[on the way to his local diner for the best low-carb omelet-fest this side of the Mississippi]

and the fable of rice on a chess board came to mind. I think it’s an old Confusciuscian

[made-up words are cool]

parable, though, knowing BadConsultant‘s luck, it’s probably that bastard Aesop muscling in again.

But… We digress.

Here’s the fable. There’s this dude, who meets another dude, who offers the first dude something amazing, and then that dude, sensing the second dude is trying to pull a fast one, tells the dude that he’ll only agree to the deal if the dude offers the dude…

Ah, screw that… I don’t even know the chinese symbol for dude.

Let’s cut to the chase. It’s a mathematical core. If you put one grain of rice on the first square of a chess board, two on the second, four on the third, eight on the fourth, etc.

[i.e. doubling each time – for those working in corporate analytics functions]

by the time you reach the 64th square there isn’t enough rice in the world to put on the square.

[forgetting for a moment that the surface area of the square is likely only a little over a square-inch, so it’d have to be a mighty, might tall tower of precisely balanced rice anyway]

The moral of the story is lost on us, except that the simple mathematics of scale soon outstrip reality. I think, if I’m right, the number of grains of rice on that last square are 2-to-the-power-of-64 (=2^64 in Excel). It’s a very, very large number:

18,446,744,073,709,600,000

A large number indeed.

[almost as much as Wall St receives in bonuses (in a bailout year)]

And so to growth.

Stop for a moment and think of a large corporation. One you work for maybe. Or one you’ve heard of. What scale of growth are they on the record as having in their sights. Let’s say it’s a range – from the conservative 8% to the more common 12%

[because we love to say ‘double-digit’ – YEEHAW!!!]

to the still common 20%.

Let’s take 3 companies aiming for those growth rates: Company A ($1m base-revenue), Company B ($500m base revenue), and Company C ($10bn base revenue).

And let’s say we drop in on them at 5, 10, 20 and 50 year points:

BadConsultant Company.jpg

In our fantasy scenarios, anything is possible, of course. So yes, over 50 years, Company C could conceivably grow its revenue from $10 billion to $91 trillion, but BadConsultant would suggest that as unlikely. But what about Company A growing its revenue from $1 million to $9 billion in that same 50 years? Is that any more doable? If there were that size of market potentially-available, how come Company A is only $1m at the moment?

The mythology of growth is a powerful aphrodisiac. We just love to get turned on by the illusion of momentum

[and use confirmation-biased analysis to convince ourselves that our stock purchases are anything but]

we are, after all, a progression-based organism.

[guaranteed promotion and career ladders… Anyone? Anyone?!!]

But here’s the thing, pinning your hopes and dreams on growth is a risky prospect – and, we would argue, leads to the sort of behavior that creates Credit Default Swaps, LIBOR fixing, Ponzi schemes, and every other trick that brought the global economy to its knees.

Long-term hyper-growth is unachievable

[if not simply for the fact that it assumes unlimited resources – to which, the Earth might have something to say]

and every ounce of leadership and organizational energy and commitment pursuing that myth is destined for the morass of futility, frustration and, ultimately, despair.

The only growth industries left are those that result in happiness, joy, satisfaction and enoughness

[made-up words are cool]

and the company that begins to deliver to those aims – and not the illusion of certainty that is materialistic comfort purchases – will wipe the floor with those laboring for the mythology of growth.

BadConsultant won’t be holding his breath, however.

As ever, your humble correspondent,

BC