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Nathanael Garrett Novosel, October 21 2020

The Growth-Centric View of Meaning in Popular Ideas

I just described where the growth-centric view of meaning is popping up in the corporate world, and so my brain must've been primed to see some of these examples in other areas.  There are several pop psychology and business ideas that have been widely used and accepted in speeches and articles that have growth at the heart of them.  Let's take a look:

The Infinite Game – Simon Sinek, who's famous for Start with Why and his related TED Talk, came out with a more recent book, The Infinite Game, which describes how the best organizations compete against themselves vs. the competition and the best people try to improve themselves, basically is a case for continuous growth.  People and organizations only get better if they know the direction they want to go in and continue to push themselves toward a better and better future.

Note that Sinek goes into much more detail about the rules of Finite Games vs. Infinite Games and there are many more points and insights in the book, but the conclusion for how to find meaning and purpose in your life and business if you see it as a continuous growth toward an unending future is more appropriate than in a finite game where there's a definitive success measure where you win forever.  We know that life doesn't work that way: records are broken, innovations put some businesses ahead of others, and people can change their directions in life at any time.  Focus on growth toward an evolving set of goals, and you'll always have purpose and drive.


The Growth Mindset – I repeatedly cite this as the big breakthrough research that I finally stumbled upon after years of research and my hypothesis that we live in a growth-centric world, but Dr. Carol Dweck's Mindset, where she compares the Growth Mindset to the Fixed Mindset and finds that the former makes people more successful, is verifiable proof in psychology that growth is key to success and fulfillment in life.  The insight is that people who believe that their abilities are fixed give up as soon as they face adversity, while people with the growth mindset know that they can continue to improve and so are much more likely to overcome challenges.

It's worth noting that Simon Sinek uses the term, "The Infinite Mindset" in The Infinite Game, and I can only assume that he was aware of the Growth Mindset (or at least its familiarity/popularity) when he wrote his latest book.  In "The Growth Mindset", growth is literally and figuratively at the center.


Drive – Daniel Pink's book, Drive, describes the three things that matter (after money is addressed) in motivating people toward their best work in their jobs: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.  Effectively, people want to have control over what they do and how they do it, they want to be great at what they do, and they want to feel like their work is meaningful/important/significant.  Now, "Autonomy" is synonymous with freedom of choice, which is concept #8 in The Meaning of Life, but mastery and purpose go hand in hand in the sense that continuous improvement—aka growth—toward a goal that you deem worthy is what gives someone a sense of purpose.

One of the funny things about the "purpose" definition of meaning is that people don't realize that you can only have a purpose if you have not yet attained the thing you're aiming for.  It's almost silly that people are looking for instant gratification or success when the attainment of what they want will immediately eliminate the purpose and the desire as well (because, once you have it, your desire begins to fade for it and grows for other things unless you maintain your appreciation for it).  That's why people who treat continuous improvement and new experiences are the ones who find the most meaning and fulfillment in life because they know that the point is not the attainment of something but the journey over time.  The only way to maintain a journey is to keep going once you've reached your little milestones that provide rewards to make you feel accomplished and keep you motivated.  It's also why MMORPGs like World of Warcraft are addictive, but that's for another post...


Kaizen – Kaizen is the Japanese word for "improvement", so this connection is pretty obvious.  However, it's where Kaizen is implemented that's interesting: Japanese companies introduced this philosophy in the business world to drive themselves to be some of the top-performing organizations in the world.  The point, of course, is identifying continuous improvement in all areas of your life, but the great part of it is the way in which you constantly feel motivated but that the improvements can be very, very small.  If you just find out, for example, that you can do a task in 34 steps instead of 35, that's still Kaizen and is still rewarded.  There are a lot of techniques mentioned in the book, such as having regular meetings to discuss improvements and to have offsites or other creative sessions to take time to identify where you could innovate, but it's the mantra that growth is ongoing and that you can always improve that puts it on this list of growth-centric ideas.


The 1% Rule – I think you're getting the point by now, but there's one unique point in The 1% Rule that is interesting: you don't have to change much at any given time to have a huge impact over your lifetime.  The book flat-out states that if you improved 1% per day, you'd be 365% better—unless you factor in "compound growth", in which case you'd be over 37 times better in one year (1.01^365 vs. 1.01*365 are the two calculations, if you're wondering).  What's amazing about that is that small changes can make a big difference, and it's even more interesting when you realize that success compounds success.  So continue to improve, and you'll improve at improving.  Great news!

So there you have it: five ideas in popular business and psychology books that highlight how central growth is to meaning, purpose, and success.  Given how people and organizations are looking to inject more meaning into what they do because of the era/generation we're in, you'll likely see more of these growth-centric philosophies and insights in the future.

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Nathanael Garrett Novosel

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