Sunday, August 24, 2003

Think big to spur big growth

By Rhonda Abrams
Gannett News Service

In my company, this is the time of year we do our annual planning. While January is the beginning of the calendar year, it often seems natural to sit down at the end of summer to get a good fix on the year ahead. In this year's planning session, I'm going to challenge myself and my staff to do a little radical thinking.

Here's what I mean by radical thinking:

In most systems, including businesses, national economies, even human beings, there are two kinds of growth:

• Incremental growth - progressive, steady growth that occurs in small increments, building on the existing foundation.

• Radical growth - dramatic, extraordinary growth that occurs in spurts, significantly transforming the existing system.

I'm not a big believer in radical growth for small businesses. It's too disruptive and too expensive. And for many entrepreneurs, an ideal goal is to have a steady, comfortable income. Let me say clearly: I support that goal!

That's why small businesses should primarily plan for, and rely on, incremental growth.

But if you want to grow your company to a whole new level - if your exit plan is to have your company be sold, acquired, or go public - then you need to spend some time thinking about your business in a whole new way.

That's where we are with my company. So this year, in our planning session, I'm going to challenge myself and my employees to imagine what it would take to reach a much higher level.

We're going to have a brainstorm session that I'm calling "The Big Leap." After we do the initial part of our planning session - reviewing the goals we set last year and assessing our progress - I'm setting aside two hours to generate ideas to answer the question:

"What would it take to reach X dollars in sales (a substantial increase) in three years?"

The basic rules of this brainstorming session are these:

• We cannot change our fundamental mission statement, our core competencies: That's the business we know.

• We can change just about anything else.

• We don't think about how realistic it is - yet.

Next, we ask ourselves:

"What does that level of sales mean in terms of generating income? In particular, what would we have to create in the way of:

• New products?

• New distribution channels?

• New pricing models?"

We think wild thoughts. During this brainstorming session, we don't concentrate on how we'd execute our ideas, just on what it would take to reach a whole new level. We get ourselves, to use an overused term, "to think outside the box."

The goal is not to radically remake our business - which, after all is growing nicely now - but to keep our thinking fresh, to find ways to improve and enhance, not just innovate. We go far out, and then reel ourselves back into reality. We're going to engage in a little radical thinking - and a whole lot of discipline.

Rhonda Abrams is the author of "The Successful Business Organizer," "Wear Clean Underwear," and "The Successful Business Plan: Secrets & Strategies." To receive Rhonda's free business tips newsletter, register at

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