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Is growth all it's cracked up to be?
on 14 August 2008
Jim's book explores the ways that some outstanding small companies have grown very quickly and successfully. Jim assumes that all companies want amazingly quick growth too. Well, that is the conventional wisdom, and I do work for a company that has also grown amazingly from scratch over 13 years. But, there's a problem. If companies do go on filling the world with plastic stuff at extraordinary rates, like the Jibbitz, things people use to decorate their Crocs plastic shoes, then the world is going to fill up with yet more plastic stuff. The company I work for has a neutral carbon footprint and every time you buy one of their products rather than one of the competitions, the planet benefits.
This books is very upbeat and inspiring; it's well written, easily understood and accessible. But it's another of those books which is making Americans miserable (see the many new books on happiness and in particular Oliver James's Selfish Caplitalism for the details) by showing how badly the rest of us are doing against these supersuccessful few.
So while I enjoyed reading about hardworking, inspired Americans who have struck lucky, I have two problems with it:
1) We are currently producing 6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year and the earth can only deal with 2 billion. More growth means a shorter life for our planet as we know it. I'd like to see business books showing some recognition that continued growth is a problem.
2) We have accepted the idea that if only we are a bit richer and a bit more successful, then we'll really be happier - when the stats show it's not so. Despite having a lot more relative income and stuff we, Americans, British and particularly Australians, have not got any happier since the 1970s. (The Indonesians, with far less money, consumer choice and fewer belongings, are the happiest.)
Jim says that "growth is about ambition" and he's probably right. But as he describes the wealth made from making more guns, things to keep iPods safe, Disney characters to stick into plastic shoes and robots that work in the nuclear industry, I wonder if a bit less ambition might make a bit less climate change and a healthier planet for millions of us, not just a few rich people.
Sorry to pour cold water on his burning ambition, but I think businesses need a bit more of a sense of responsibility.