In an attention getting paradox introduced by authors Zook and Allen, they explain the relationship between growth and complexity. In their words, "growth creates complexity and complexity is the silent killer of growth".

They suggest that this paradox helps explain why only 11 percent of all companies have achieved a minimum level of profitable growth during the past decade. The interesting thing about this premise, that I've seen time and again is that the biggest challenge for businesses isn't external factors like competition, technology or market forces, it comes from the force within!

I am absolutely infatuated with what they call the three traits of a founder's mentality that creates competitive differentiation and the fuel for growth because they are all forces within our own control.

In their research they show that since 1990 the returns to shareholders of public companies where founders are still involved are three times higher than other companies.

So what are the traits that make the difference for growth according to Zook and Allen? They are an "insurgent's mission, an owner's mindset, and an obsession with the front line". Here is why these elements are so important for growth.

  1. An Insurgent's Mission---an insurgent mentality fights against existing ways with a strong belief and passion that there is a better way to be found and practiced. An insurgent leader and culture conveys a spirit that the way things are done today won't be good enough tomorrow. Driven by the basic idea that if we can do better, we should. This one clearly resonated with me because it's one of my own organization's values.

My experiences are consistent with Zook and Allen's observations. Leaders of large, successful organization, tend to have an insurgent mission and a burning desire to challenge the status quo with a never-ending effort to raise our individual and collective games to the next level.

And it doesn't have to be complex. The pioneering mindset and the focus of insurgency can be as simple as a passion about an underserved customer like a patient in a healthcare system, or waging war with an industry the way Uber has in transportation -- with a clear effort to redefine the rules of the traditional taxi industry.

The most powerful insurgencies Zook and Allen found had a bold mission that focuses relentlessly on the essence of the insurgency, a spikiness that focuses on one or two capabilities that differentiates the organization, and a limitless horizon that embodies a belief that the boundaries for growth can be extended significantly outside the core.

To move to this mindset you can ask the question: Where can I identify the existence of an insurgent's mission in my organization?

2. An Owner's Mindset---the authors' research shows that "only 13 percent of employees feel any emotional connection with the company that he or she works for". This is far lower than the Gallup number for engagement that typically shows 30 percent of people are engaged where they work.

The antidote for the apathetic level of emotional connection in the workplace and for the attitude for growth is an owner's mindset. We talk about this a lot with our clients - in particular with the managers in their organization.

When you empower your people to "act like owners", the behaviors and outcomes tend to be very different. The characteristics that make up an owner's mindset are:

  • ·A strong focus on the finances, or specifically costs where people treat both expenses and investments as their own money. Jack Stack and his work on The Great Game of Business long ago showed what was possible with transparency of finances and the empowerment of people with the economics of the business.
  • A bias for action. The constant question is; what action can we take now to better serve a customer or challenge the status quo in our industry.
  • An aversion to bureaucracy.. The aversion to bureaucracy is a commitment to keep it simple and avoid complexity at all cost. It's critical to engage your people on "burden or bureaucracy busting". We have seen entire companies embark on an organizational effort to reduce the burden of bureaucracy by eliminating checks checking checks, reducing information requests that are redundant, and discontinuing unhealthy efforts that add little value.

Ask yourself: Do your employees have an owner's mindset? How about your leaders?

3. A Front Line Obsession---Obsession is a critical word. It means a constant curiosity for the details that occur at the ground level. The obsession with the front line means that relentless attention to detail in three areas: the front line employee, individual customers and the details of the business.

What this means is that at the core of the front line obsession is a deep empathy and curiosity about how the experience of employees and customers occurs on the front line.

Questions to ask: Are you obsessed with the front line? Do you intimately know and care about the experience of your front line employees and how that impacts your customers?

I can't recall writing such a "book report" like article since grade school, but I believe that Founder's Mentality by Zook and Allen has much to offer for the company looking to instill a growth mindset and the growth practices that keep away the complexity and bureaucracies that destroy growth.