Updated: Jan 29, 2020
We have all heard it at one time or another from executives and business owners. “We are just going through some growing pains right now.” It seems to be a universal way of explaining sudden challenges or in many cases more long term trends.
Pain is almost always perceived as a negative thing but when you connect it with the concept of growth, it becomes much more neutral and even positive. I think it goes back to our adolescent years when actual growing pains were a pretty regular occurrence. It was not a really strong memory for me until my daughter, who is ten years old now started to wake up in the middle of the night with pain in her legs. One night when my wife and I were awoken and found ourselves consoling my daughter while she was crying, that memory of growing pains from my childhood came rushing back to me. It was real pain. It was not just a dull, sore pain that you could ignore. It was sharp and it seemed at the time like it would never end.
As far as I can tell, any real, significant growth is always accompanied by some level of pain. If you watch any of the dozens of documentaries about military special forces training, it is very clear that growth comes at the cost of pain. In those circles, they call it an evolution. The word evolution itself is defined as any process of formation or growth; development. Anyone who has been through an evolution with their business knows that it is never easy and always comes with some level of pain.
So if pain, whether mild or intense is always an element of growth, then is growth always the product of pain? Absolutely not! Pain can also be a sign of dysfunction, injury or illness. Not to say that growth can’t come from that kind of pain, as it definitely can and often does but pain alone does not create growth.
There is more to the growth equation than simply pain.
So how do you know whether the challenges and pain you are feeling in your business are actually “growing pains” or whether they are a sign of dysfunction? The simplest answer to this comes in the form of another question, “Is this pain I am experiencing expected and is the level of pain I am experiencing also as expected?”.
If you are like me and have recently found yourself back in the gym after an overly extended break during the holidays, the pain I am feeling this morning is very much real but it is also very much expected. As in many cases, that kind of pain is basically a barrier that needs to be overcome in order to achieve a result - Growth. If you put strain on your muscles, you will be sore but if you overcome that pain and continue the process, you will see growth. That said, if you put too much strain or have improper technique, you can cause injury and setbacks.
A few years back, I had managed to somehow string together a few months consecutively of actually going to the gym regularly and working out. I felt great and I had started to see some good results. One day I got ambitious and started watching Youtube videos looking for more “advanced” techniques. One, in particular, caught my attention and I decided to give it a try at the gym.
From my vantage point, the exercise seemed pretty simple. It was a form of a bicep curl with a dumbbell where you twist at the end and reverse the motion downward slowly. Simple enough but after about my fifth attempt, I felt a big pop in my elbow and immediately experienced some very sharp pain. That pain was of the unexpected kind and sure enough, after a visit to the urgent care the next day, I had torn a ligament. As it turned out that injury would go on in one form or another for well over a year. Improper technique, poor execution, and definitely too much weight all contributed to pain that didn’t lead to growth but instead proved to be a big setback. At a minimum, my already inconsistent and poor golf skills suffered that year but on some days even picking up a gallon of milk from the fridge proved to be a challenge. Many times during that year I wished I could go back and avoid that injury and avoid that setback.
The same concept applies to business growth. Growth can come from pain but it should be the kind of pain that is planned for and expected.
It also needs to be part of a strong strategy (the technique) and you have to strain the sales model but not to the point of causing injury (too much weight). I learned the hard way in the gym that Youtube videos were no substitute for a personal trainer and the same goes for business.