“All the new thinking is about loss.
In this it resembles all the old thinking.”
– Robert Hass, “Meditation at Lagunitas”
Anyone working in the startup ecosystem today is well aware that the word “growth” has become ubiquitous, leading to the rewriting of many former job titles and the proliferation of new ones.
For those promoting or seeking these jobs, there is an exciting sense that something new and important is breaking into view. A lot of the new thinking around growth has in fact been smart and timely.
If you’re working outside of tech, or outside of the private sector, you might be unaware of the volume and nature of all this “growth” related discussion and commentary.
Here’s a taste:
- “Find a Growth Hacker for Your Startup” (2010)
- “Why the Haters Are Wrong About Growth Hacking” (2014)
- “What the heck is a growth team?” (2016)
- “7 Principles to Mastering Growth Marketing” (2016)
- “The emergence of the ‘Growth CMO’” (2017)
- “How to Achieve Startup Hypergrowth” (2017)
- “Defining Growth Design: [the] Role Most Startups are Missing” (2019)
The memetic spread of the term is happening now, for a reason. That said, Silicon Valley has gone through many memes like this in the last twenty years. The challenge is that when any meme becomes dominant, it also loses all its specificity and expressive vigor. It’s an example of a complex system becoming efficient, which in turn kills the (semiotic) system. When we all use the exact same words, and take certain values for granted, we lose sight of what we’re taking for granted.
Aneel Lakhani writes:
“Growth is a somewhat nebulous term that comes down to growing, or increasing the velocity of, the funnel… Growth is oftentimes considered its own discipline and, sometimes, its own line of business with it’s own marketing, product, engineering, and operations staff that experiment with and A/B test all aspects of the user experience leading to conversion and expansion, as well as things like referral marketing. In my decidedly old-man-shaking-fist-at-sky mindset, this isn’t a discipline. It’s a dedicated funnel team that’s usually led from product and run like an independent operating unit. But every generation needs to feel special. So have your mantle.”
I have no need, desire, or ability to stop a meme: if “growth” is the word that startups and VCs are using now, then let’s use it. But while appreciating what’s legitimately new, interesting, and #winning about “growth,” I want to also disturb the earth a bit to see what’s been lost or obscured by this trend; to predict where it might be heading; and to connect this startup-specific phenomenon with the rest of the private sector and the current overall economy.
Next article: Growth basics