Slow growth is smart growth: a manifesto

Slow growth is smart growth: a manifesto

I wrote this post in 2009, for the blog I maintained with my co-author for The Boss of Youmy first book. Years later, I still return to it. While there are things I might approach differently now, it’s a piece of wanting I want to preserve – so here it is. 

I’ve been asking myself lately whether there is a common set of values that is shared by the various creative, values-driven entrepreneurs I know and admire. Sometimes it seems difficult even to agree on a definition or label under which we can unite: Some of us consider ourselves grassroots businesses; others go by “small & special“; I also identify with the term “creative entrepreneur,” while others might unite under the flags of social venture or social entrepreneurship. Each of these labels comes with a set of associations, but rather than trying to find the right name for who we are, I find myself wondering if we might be better served by focusing on the values we share.

One of the key values Emira and I share is our belief in gradual, sustainable growth — we’ve both seen great businesses implode as a result of too-rapid, compulsive growth, and feel that our culture’s addiction to faster, bigger everything is one of the major problems we need to address on both local and global levels. So I’ve termed this “The Slow Growth is Smart Growth Manifesto.”

This is my attempt at writing down some of the values I hold dear, and that we have heard from the many inspiring small business owners we have had the pleasure of meeting. I’m sure I will miss something fundamental, or gloss over an important detail, so my hope is that you will take this in the first-draft spirit in which I’ve written it, and comment, critique, and remix it as you see fit.

THE SLOW GROWTH IS SMART GROWTH MANIFESTO

Bigger is not inherently better. Small can be beautiful, and growth comes in many forms. Positive growth is prompted by demand for better products & services — and doesn’t compromise our best values, our local communities or our environment.

There is a difference between ambition and greed. Ambition drives us to be extraordinary, reach higher, and do outstanding work. Greed is the byproduct of a scarcity mentality that tells us our gains must come at the expense of others.

Risk has to be affordable. We keep our debts to a minimum, and do the most we can with the resources available to us. We celebrate creative bootstrapping, and reject the widespread, glorified image of the high-stakes, winner-take-all entrepreneur.

Meaningful work makes for a more meaningful life. We love what we do, and are passionate about creating stuff that makes our customers’ lives richer, easier, and happier.

Good work deserves to be well compensated. We believe in paying ourselves and our staff enough to live well and give back to our communities — and in taking time away from work to recharge our bodies, minds and spirits.

How we spend our businesses’ money matters. As business owners we have the power to distribute the money we generate as we see fit; and we use this opportunity to nurture more smart growth through conscious spending and investing in things that align with our values.

Craftsmanship never goes out of style. Quality goods, skillful execution, and lifelong development of specialized skills are a recipe for proud and happy staff, no-bullshit marketing, and healthy pricing — all of which are beneficial to our businesses and our customers.

Quiet is just fine. Recognition is nice, but not essential. We would rather quietly turn a healthy profit doing what we love than engage in pissing contests over gross revenues, mergers & acquisitions, or becoming the next hot-shit, picture-all-over-the-business-pages CEO.

Healthy workplaces are productive workplaces. At Raised Eyebrow, we like to go home at 5 o’clock and honour our days off. We aim for warm, constructive relationships with our colleagues and customers. And we keep a generous supply tea and chocolate on hand. Everyone has their own definition of a positive work environment, but when we establish creative collaboration, honest communication, and reasonable hours of work as the norm, we promote the well-being of workers, our families, and our environment as well as our businesses.

Define success on your own terms. We create conscious, integrated models for what success looks like, rather than relying on tired, inherited stereotypes and trappings of “the good life.” We are not defined by our work alone.

Focus on what you do best. There is a lot to be said for saying no. None of us can be all things to all people.

Niches and the long tail are on our side. There is enough to go around. When we build alliances with other niche businesses we create rising tides that lift all boats.

Photo by Ray Hennessy on Unsplash.