One of the first things someone told me about business was that you have to run to stand still.
Then the stock markets taught me that anything other than solid growth would be punished severely by the market in terms of valuation of a company.
This translates at the individual level as well where people are driven to grow their position on the corporate ladder, their income level, their total wealth and status overall as determined by all of the above. Since, even if you have $100 million in the bank and a Gulfstream jet, you could always get an ocean-going yacht too. Of course, I run a for-profit marketing services company and we too are driven by the need for growth of both topline and bottomline.
Recently, while reading an interesting and compelling book called “Eaarth” by Bill McKibben, I was intrigued by one of the ideas suggested by the author. That growth the way we’ve always assumed as a given may not be possible or practical going forward given the inability of our planet to sustain our current growth rates and ambitions of six billion people.
If you take a broader view of what’s happening around us and for a moment assume the position that unbridled growth the way we’ve known and desired will indeed not be sustainable over the long run, it begs the question – what is our alternative and how do we deal with it? Is there a way to change the way we’ve come to think about our success, at an individual and macro level to allow for the possibility of not growing financially? Can long term sustainability over-ride the short-term drivers for growth? Can we stop ravaging our planet to satisfy our immediate needs and make it possible for our children’s children to enjoy a lifestyle comparable to ours?
I believe that this should be easiest to do in the developed world where arguably most basic needs are met for the largest sections of our population where it may be feasible to contemplate a world where one won’t be 50% richer in five years. But how does one convince those in the developing world that are just beginning to get two square meals a day, a roof over their heads or their first motorized transport? How do you tell them now is a good time to stop and that they should be satisfied having way less materially than people in the developed world, or even the better off segments in their own country?
I would love to hear your thoughts.