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Growth And Development

Two of my favorite bureaucracy-busting systems thinkers, Russell Ackoff and John Warfield, died this year. I’ll miss them both because whenever I’ve read something written by these guys, I always learned something new.

In a tribute to Mr. Ackoff, I’m currently reading Ackoff’s Best: His Classic Writings On Management. One of his off-the-beaten-path insights that he’s passed on to me is the independence between growth and development. Growth is an increase in size or wealth, while development is an increase in capability or competence as a result of learning. According to Ackoff, dumb-ass corpocracies automatically and unquestioningly equate growth with development, and that’s why the vast majority of orgs are obsessed with growth at all costs. Of course, growth and development can, and often do, reinforce each other, but neither is necessary for the other.

Ackoff points out that a system can experience growth without development, and vice versa. A heap of rubbish, or equivalently, a bureaucracy, can grow indefinitely without developing, and artists can develop without growing. If an undeveloped company or company is showered with money, it becomes richer but not more developed. On the other hand, if a well developed company or country is suddenly deprived of wealth, it doesn’t become less developed.

What is your org doing? Growing? Developing? Both? Neither?

  1. Ray
    November 30, 2009 at 8:28 am

    Stock market investors are the reason for the need to have the perception of growth. People who invested money wanted big returns fast. The concept of investing for the long term wasn’t the big on the list. So growth or perceived growth attracted more investment with out investors really looking at it. That is why we have failures like Dubai World.

  1. November 29, 2009 at 6:09 pm

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