The Growth-Progress Paradox

Following the previous post on How to achieve sustained growth?, in which we suggested that progress leads to sustaining growth, the question now is: What is progress anyway?

When asked, most consider progress to be an imaginary line, moving in an upward direction, as things keep getting better. However, the true meaning of progress could not be further away from this idea. Let’s look at the following series of graphs:


To understand progress, you’ll have to understand the relationship between capacities (capabilities, resources, caring, and so on) and challenges (threats and opportunities). Progress can be defined as any path of learning and action that moves in a downward direction of reducing the number of matched and unmatched threats/missed opportunities while growing the capacity to deal with them (second image from the left).

Obviously, challenges aren’t as clear-cut as the straight lines in the graphs suggest. Challenges are often complex problems, containing a larger set of problems and event flows – some more important than others. Sometimes, by solving one problem, we cause another problem to arise. In other cases, by solving an unseen problem, we begin to see that it is embedded in a larger, much more complex problem. Unfortunately, we humans tend to focus on the smaller problems, that require immediate attention while ignoring the larger, significant challenges.

So, when we consider the third graph from the left, this should give you a clear picture of the relationship between growth and progress.

Progress is our adaptive capacity to deal with unmatched, unmanaged, or unseen threats and/or opportunities.

What happens when we limit our capacity to solve unmatched challenges? When the number of unmatched challenges grows, and our learnings and actions require more of our time and resources, growth becomes hampered, leading to a stagnation of growth (fourth graph from the left). We literally become frozen in time (threshold of progress and growth). At least for a short while, because as time goes by, growth will soon start to decline as competition is catching up.

Growth versus fixed mindset

Progress requires a growth mindset; to develop the adaptive capacity to deal with unmatched challenges. A fixed mindset will offer people the capabilities to solve known/matched challenges. We often refer to these types of people as ‘experts’: they have the know-how to solve known challenges. Usually, experts are also believed to be able to solve unmatched challenges as diligently as known ones. This can be a costly mistake during a reorganization of the business.

The thing is, in our digital age, we don’t need more people to solve known problems, we need people to meet the fast-growing number of unmatched challenges, often occurring at the interfaces, in between the silos. This is the playground of the generalists, the polymaths, and the multipotentialists. Or as we refer to them, the Grandmasters of Business™.

The Majority is always wrong

Paul Rulkens argues that sticking with what you know, or doing what most do to cope with a given situation, is not the way forward, by any means.

Inspired by an article on Human Venture


Edwin Korver

Edwin Korver

Architect of ROUNDMAP™ - Advancing Grandmastership of Business™ ✪ Business Model Matrix™ ✪ Polymath ✪ Generalist ✪ Systems Thinker ✪ Board Member, CEO CROSS-SILO BV

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