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The Growth Arc

“Chaos should be regarded as extremely good news!” – Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Our wishes for our companies are often fueled by a mix of our hopes and our fears. An interesting thing happens when you realize your company isn’t a rocketship and instead is a steady, successful company. What does it feel like when the rocketship phase of the rollercoaster of hypergrowth (or while chasing the promise of such growth) evens out and the doors to the company are still open, minus the rocket’s red glare?

For those who have companies that end up here, it’s an important juncture. They’ve built beyond failure and matured past glossy beginnings. They’re not being courted to be acquired, nor are they acquiring. When the roller coaster stops and the company doesn’t become the rocket we thought we were on, it’s just a company after all. There’s still growth, but it’s slower.

Such a place is an interesting achievement for the entrepreneur, and poses many questions: Are we ready to continue on the path from this place we’ve arrived? Do we long for something more rollercoaster-y? “Entrepreneurs at midlife…,” muses Jerry. To borrow a line from Donald Justice’s poem Men at 40: Is it here that we learn to close softly the doors to rooms we know we may not be coming back to?

Work-life at this stage is like the “stirring the oatmeal” phase in a relationship. When the thrill and excitement settles into the steady, sustainable moments that are simply different than when things may have started. Perhaps we find ourselves bored on Friday at 4 pm. Perhaps we take a sabbatical and find that the executive team has everything taken care of in our absence. (All marks of a thriving team who knows their roles – including the leader.)

We refer to the concept of the Arc of Dysfunction when it comes to company growth, especially the high-growth venture-backed ones. Many companies find themselves somewhere on this arc as they grow: a company typically launches as an ‘unhealthy and dysfunctional’, grows to a ‘healthy and dysfunctional’ top of the arc, and settles into a mature healthy, and functional space. While the landing pad at the end of the arc can feel boring compared to the launch pad, the metric ton of growth potential fueled by the rocket ride creates the opportunity for a trajectory of actualization for the whole organization. That can be a beautiful ride to take.



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