10 Best Ideas about Growth for 2021 … capitalism and power, inflections and innovations, pivots and portfolios, and a bit of rocket science too

February 1, 2021

What are the best ideas for business leaders to drive growth?

It’s been a difficult time. Growth has certainly not been the first word on most executive minds over recent months, as the impact of the pandemic have challenged every business, every industry, every part of the world.

However it has also been a time of incredible shake-up, shaking out those companies who were living on borrowed time (like Hertz who just didn’t evolve, or WeWork’s failed business model), and waking up those struggling to survive in a changing world.

Other companies have done remarkably well, accelerating innovation and growth, as consumers and industry structures have adapted and evolved (Tesla is the poster child with 690% market value growth last year, but many others too, digital platforms like Amazon and Pinduoduo, but also those that work with them, like Adyen and Visa).

So what are the best ideas for growth?

Each year I spend time looking for what is new, what matters and what works. I’m looking for practical tools that make a difference. They might come from thinkers, as typically collated by the like of Thinkers50 and Strategy-Business, but might equally come from practitioners, the most innovative companies around the world. I’m focused on the ideas that have impact, not just the intellectual concepts or personalities. Ideas that help you grow.

Here are the top 10 ideas:

Reimagining Capitalism … The drive for a more enlightened approach has been coming for sometime – stakeholder capitalism, shared value, purpose and profit – now really is the time to redefine why we do business, and what’s the real goal. Rebecca Henderson, born in London but now based in Boston, has a huge passion for this topic, and a great new book.

New Power … The shifts in power are obvious in some ways – look at the economic growth of Asian markets in recent years, or the influence of social media on consumer decision making – but in other ways are more subtle. Crowd power and collaboration are transforming how we invest, how we innovate, and the impact we have. Heimans and Tims show us how.

Managing Complexity … Sensemaking has become a crucial part of growth, understanding the complexity of growth drivers, and how new opportunities will really emerge. Clearfield and Tilcsik do a great job showing how everything is connected, but so do the likes of Kotler and Sarkar with their Wicked 7 project to address the world’s biggest problems.

Seeing around Corners … S curves are a simple representation, prompting much discussion about how markets evolve and businesses grow. Finding the inflection points enables us to know when new opportunities take offer. Look to outlying consumers, changing behaviours, market disruptors and parallel markets, to find the signals of change.

Self-tuning strategies … This could do the likes of McKinsey out of business, yet by harnessing the power of data, there’s no reason why a company can’t actively manage growth strategies themselves, and adapt them every day rather than once a year. Ming Zeng pioneered this approach at Alibaba, then wrote the book about it.

More is not better … Most businesses are obsessed about size, look at how many companies will drive revenue growth at any cost, and look to market share as the key metric. Ultimately they realise that such volume-based growth is limited and up squeezing more and more costs out of business. By growth, we mean profitable and sustainable growth.

Growth Portfolios … there are lots of useful ideas from Osterwalder and team, but the most valuable is probably the idea of thinking about innovation and growth in terms of portfolios – to exploit today, and explore tomorrow. Complex and uncertain markets mean we need more ideas, more options, more eggs in our basket. To survive, and also thrive over time.

Future Faster … I often say that we will see more change in the next 10 years than the last 250 years. Diamandis would suggest we will see 1000 times more growth in that time. His passion is for the unlocking of exponential technologies. We’re all familiar with exponentials, but the key to driving them is the multiplying impact of using network-effects and his 6Ds.

Pivot to the Future … At some point you need to make the shift, from old to new world (like IBM most famously did, from computers to consulting). Pivots are becoming more common, in every kind of business, not just something start-ups do as they search for a meaningful business. When do you jump to new markets, develop new business, and shift your core?

Rocket Science ... Ok, this is fun in some ways but Ozan Varol takes his ideas as a scientist (creating the Mars Rover vehicle) and applying it to business. It brings together lots of the established ideas, from questions and lean thinking to moonshots and experimentation, to accelerate your mind to bigger opportunities in your “explore” portfolio.

These are the first 10 ideas in my overall framework, 50 Best Ideas for Business Leaders. These form an inspiring keynote session, or practical workshop for you and your teams. The ideas are constantly updated and published each year.