Business Growth Strategies for a Slow Growth World

When it seems like I cannot get a grasp on time and can't get everything done in a 24 hour day, it is difficult to stop and think about what it means to be in a "slow growth world." And all the talk about "degrowth" at the recent Women's Forum Global Meeting in Deauville, France sent me to Google to learn more.

Degrowth is a political, economic and social movement based on ecological economics, as well as anti-consumerist and anti-capitalist ideas. Degrowth thinkers advocate for the downsizing of production and consumption -- more along the lines of shared consumption. But, as I learned at the conference, it's more than eBay and car pooling! Could it be so simple as "smart" production and "smart" consumption?

It was new to me -- this concept of degrowth. But I'm not so sure that it's a new conversation to the Europeans, or that it won't follow me to the U.S. If we stop growing, will we be failing? Will the economy die? Regarding over-consumption, one audience member from Istanbul brought up the issue of horrendous traffic in her city due to the over-abundance of automobiles. Someone on the panel seemed to miss her point, so she responded: "Cars will be the cigarettes of the past!" This might be a good warning for emerging markets.

The talk of growth reminded me of a recent McKinsey report, which discusses the increasing urbanization that is growing emerging economies around the world. In cities, one billion people will enter the global "consuming class" by 2025, the report projects, and from 2010 to 2025, the GDP of the top 600 cities in the world will rise by more than $30 trillion.

In another Women's Forum session on "Entering a Slow Growth World," there was one panelist, Marilyn Waring from New Zealand, who came out strongly on her stance on economics. She stated early on that "economics is a social science -- ideological."


Waring, who is a professor of Public Policy at AUT University, quickly gained a cultish following through her pragmatic and forceful speech. I saw in her bio that she authored a book, Counting for Nothing: What Men Value and What Women Are Worth, and I found only one copy remaining on Amazon -- which I grabbed. Through the hi-tech opportunities at the Women's Forum, we were able to post immediate comments and/or questions during plenary sessions, and on the huge a screen popped the mantra "Evidence: The world will turn differently when the voice of women like Marilyn Waring will be heard widely."

All in all, growth is a consequence of change. Resistance to change means resisting growth. Women have greater ability to push for change and turn the tide on inequitable growth, so there is great hope for the future!

Other interesting points and questions arising from the discussion:

• Profit is a consequence of a job well done, whereas adding value is more important.
• Are today's winning companies bearing responsibility to help other companies grow?
• Is double digit growth "old world" and slow single digit growth "new thinking"?

For me, growth has certainly taken on a new meaning, which I'm continuing to ponder back home.