A Vision for Good Growth
There are definitely pros and cons of living in Switzerland. The flag for example is a big plus (apologies, I couldn’t resist that one). But one new con that I can add to the list of many pros, is negative interest rates. That’s right, you have to pay Swiss banks to keep your money for you. Can you imagine? Thankfully when I read the small print of the letter I received from UBS in Geneva, I discovered that I would need to have a current account credit balance of over Fr.250,000 before this policy kicked in. I’m just a little shy of that and breathed a heavy sigh of relief.
It did get me reflecting on the whole polarizing question of economic growth and whether it’s necessarily a good or a bad thing. I was indoctrinated for over 25 years in the corporate world that growth was necessary for a company to survive. If people wanted pay rises and promotions and if shareholders wanted ever growing returns to encourage them to invest more, then a company had to maximise growth. All business decisions were taken on that basis, somewhat myopically I would argue. Governments have of course been complicit in this overarching economic narrative, by believing that GDP growth was a pre-requisite for a country’s economic and their own political survival,
Of course there a huge problem with this narrative in that we are already grossly exceeding planetary boundaries and rising carbon emissions mean that we are on target for catastrophic 2.5 degree climate change. Our friends at WWF claim that we already need 1.6 planets to carry on living in the same way as we currently do. Moreover, the population of the planet, our headcount if you like, is set to increase to 9.9 billion by 2050! Given this population growth is pretty much unavoidable, what’s to be done?
I believe we need to go beyond a binary discussion between “All growth is bad” versus “low or no growth” is good. Sure, we’ve seen the rise of concepts such as the so-called Circular Economy touted by many as something of a panacea to this dichotomy. However, it’s clear we need something more of a regenerative economy if we are to redress the balance.
It’s often useful to turn to nature for some ideas and metaphors that can be applied to business challenges — so-called biomimicry. Let’s face it, nature doesn’t stagnate — it’s constantly going through cycles of growth and decay following the seasons. It’s certainly regenerative, where some things die and get replaced by new life. One of my favourite metaphors is the amanitas mushroom, one of nature’s most powerful symbionts, basically recycling bad stuff into good through its mycelium root network (the concept is explained beautifully in this short video by a friend of mine called Marina Ruta who is using it as a basis for a game on collaboration and partnerships).
Growth per se is not bad, but the most important thing is to focus on what businesses we want to grow and what ones we should let go. Frankly, I’m all in favour of unbridled growth when it comes to the likes of Tesla stealing market share from the its combustion engine rivals, or nutritious food companies like WholeFoods outcompeting McDonald’s. I’d love to see energy major’s like BP or Equinor’s renewables divisions grow exponentially, while decommissioning much of their operations in the Gulf of Mexico or the UK’s North Sea. In true amanitas style, perhaps Aberdeen or Houston could see massive growth in ecofriendly decommissioning companies, displacing the myriad oilfield service companies who currently occupy these cities.
Growth in these kinds of companies, “Good Growth”, should be applauded and encouraged. ESG (Environment, Social, Governance) investment is already moving the needle and over time, hopefully a short time, the old economy will die and be replaced by the new.
* The Bullog = Bulloch + Blog
Make sense? Not bulldog, nor is it bulls**t although I’ll let you be the judge of that! It’s a brief synopsis on recent articles, events and opinions from my world and the things that have caught my attention over the past few weeks.