Growth is rarely linear and predictable in the early growth stages of a business venture and the growth itself can begin to morph or change the company in many ways.  This series addresses a range of commonly experienced business growing pains – what they are, how to spot them, and most importantly, strategies to eradicate them early before they damage the companies viability.  I call these the  “Growing Pain Gotchas” (or GPG’s for short).

All of us probably remember the guy in high school (or maybe we were that guy) who left at the end of 9th grade, small and spindly only to return after the summer having grown what seemed to be a full foot, hardly recognizable from a mere three months ago!  Along with this new found height, however, sometimes came an awkwardness in proportions or social abilities – arms too long for body, awkward social interactions, etc.  Businesses also grow in spurts and with these growth spurts can come growing pains that start as mere minor annoyances.  However, like that kid in high school who took on a new form altogether over the summer, these growing pains left unaddressed can reshape the company.  In some cases, the ways in which the company is reshaped can be catastrophic to its chances for surviving and thriving.

Last year, Forbes Magazine published an article about surprising statistics for small businesses.  They claimed that “7 out of 10” employer firms survive at least 2 years, half at least 5 years, a third at least 10 years and a quarter stay in business 15 years or more.”  These statistics essentially say that if you are an entrepreneur who wants to build a lasting business (beyond 15 years) your chances are 2.5 in 10.  Along with cash management and strategic and sufficient capitalization of the business, the secret sauce is often in how a team navigates the frenzy and chaos of early stage growth, being on the alert for any “Growing Pain Gotchas.”

This series shares stories of how these GPG’s have manifested themselves in real company situations.  Each article highlights the early warning signs of these GPG’s and also ways to treat and eradicate them when they take hold of your business.

The Growing Pain Gotchas

  • Culture Vultures
  • Talent Compromises
  • Gallivanting Goals
  • Impotent Operations
  • Leadership Atrophy

More on each of these in the days to come, but there are probably others that you can think of as well.  Hope you will comment and share and hope you enjoy the series!

As I wrap up this series of posts on ways in which you can explore innovation opportunities for your business, I wanted to share a story to address a question I’ve gotten frequently regarding my business’ name,  “Why Lumen Strategies?” Believe it or not the two are very related!

I have a passion for photography, and dream of someday after lots of practice and dedication to the art that I will be taking artistic works of photographic art that I can share with others.  About the same time as I was formulating my business model and plans for starting my own company, I was taking a course on black and white photography when the instructor asked me if I had any photographer “heroes.”  I did not hesitate to answer that there were many, but Ansel Adams stood head and shoulders above as one of my all time most admired.

He paused a moment, then he proceeded to share with me a story I had heard before but had not thought about in some time.  The story was about the making of  Moon Over Hernandez, (a very famous Ansel Adams photo).  In Ansel Adams’ own words, the taking of the photograph involved a combination of “serendipity and immediate technical recall.” Adams had driven by this particular venue many times, observed it thoughtfully in different seasons, under differing light conditions.  But this day, the luck involved driving by this scene at a time in which the light, the moon, the clouds, and the elements of the landscape that were reflecting the light created a unique opportunity for a beautiful photo.

This fleeting moment could have been lost forever for all of us.  However, through the combination of this “luck” in timing, experience and technical recall Ansel Adams captured the scene beautifully and famously.   He knew that he had to act quickly before the sun dropped further and the light changed, forever obliterating the scene as it was before him.  In his haste to set up his not so portable camera apparatus to capture the shot from atop of his vehicle, Adams realized he did not have his light meter readily available.  There was no time to search for it, he had to rely on his experience and technical recall if he were to capture this opportunity.  He had to estimate the luminosity of the moon without the aide of a light meter.  Experience allowed him to calculate quickly without a meter how many lumens of light the moon would give off and then derive the settings on his camera.

Unlike a myth of digital photography today where everyone carries a camera in their back pocket, beautiful photos of the quality captured by Ansel Adams are not born from randomly taking hundreds of pictures in the hopes of accidentally capturing something of value.  Ansel Adams had planned and imagined the potential of the very location many times before.  He had studied the composition, noting nuances in light at different times of day and year.

The unique opportunity before him was met with his experience and dedication to continuously learning to improve his art.  A beautiful photograph was captured for eternity.  I realized as the instructor closed the story, that this was what I wanted to deliver in a different context with my business.  I wanted to bring my years of experience in early stage and disruptive markets to clients in order to help them capitalize on opportunity.  At that moment I decided to name the company Lumen Strategies.  I also had the inspiration for my logo which incorporates an abstraction of the moon as part of my brand as a symbol of this juxtaposition of experience and talent channeled to take advantage of opportunity.

During this series of posts over the last two months, I have shared ideas about how you might integrate exploration of opportunities for innovation into your business as something you systemically consider as a leadership team on a regular cadence.  Continuous innovation is an imperative for businesses of all sizes today.  I hope that you can utilize some of the idea starters in these posts with your teams to inspire innovations of your own.  Should you ever decide a more structured and facilitated engagement would be of value, I hope you will consider Lumen Strategies.  We have done engagements spanning a few months or workshops spanning a few hours to 2-3 days with leadership teams to delve into their opportunities, bringing experience as a backdrop to provide value in helping you achieve your goals and capture new opportunities.  Contact us for more information if you are feeling inspired to explore innovation opportunities!

Innovation, much like ‘strategy’ requires a lot of discipline around continuously assessing and measuring resource allocation (time, money, people, energy, etc.) to assure you have it calibrated for optimal results.  I have had the opportunity to work with some very interesting groups of startup leaders since I launched my business.  An exercise that always yields a few “Ahhhah” moments is one relating to digging into core and context as part of exploring opportunities for innovation.

I first became intrigued with the core and context model for resource allocation when I read Geoffrey Moore’s Dealing with Darwin which came out in 2005.  He focused on how the market will reward your investment in core and context during different stages of the lifecycle of a companies’ evolution.  

There are many different ways in which a leadership team can utilize core and context thinking to innovate and continuously improve to achieve success.  In early growth stages of a company, this is critical.  A team or founders come together, they are passionate about what they want to bring to the world and go about building it.  They surround themselves with the resources to get everything done, sometimes bringing folks in, sometimes contracting work out, sometimes burning the midnight oil themselves, but mostly focused on just GETTING IT DONE!  As the company (or product line or offer) moves beyond introduction to growth stage – where acquiring new customers, keeping the offer fresh and differentiated, and assuring customers are delighted – it is often very worthwhile to step back and view the current state from the perspective of core and context.  What was core in the early days may have shifted as the company or product offer matured.  Often, however, what has not shifted is how it was all getting done.

Reaffirm what makes you special in the marketplace as a team.

  • As a leadership team, get together and restate what you believe to be the secret sauce of what makes you (or will be making you in earlier phases) unique and differentiated and valuable to the markets/customers you seek to attract.

Take inventory of the following:

  • Where is the key high potential talent or key leadership inside the company spending their time
  • What processes or capabilities are expending the most personnel or financial resources?

Map out which activities or processes by percentages of time or money expended in  either core or context.

  • Activities and resource in support of your special sauce are CORE – the activities that support what makes you unique in the market and uniquely valuable to the customers you serve or wish to serve;
  • All other activities fall in the area of CONTEXT.  Note, however, this does not mean that context is not important.  It is table stakes – you do not get a lot of credit in the marketplace from your clients/prospects because you have it, but you would or could be dismissed if you did not or if you executed it poorly;

Precision is not required here.  Something as simple as taking a quick look at your calendar for the last month and identifying where your time was spent as a leader and coming up with the percentage of time spent in Core vs Context can be telling.

ImageIf this example to the left is the core high potential talent team or the leadership team of GreatNew Company, there may be an excellent opportunity for innovation or change in the operational or business model.

Maybe it’s time to check out staffing up Jimmy’s group so that he is not personally so engaged in context?

Maybe most of what Susan was doing can now be outsourced with her oversight since it is increasing in volume but not changing from a process standpoint?


Make sense?  How often do you believe this type of exercise is most useful in your environment?  If you need more structure for accomplishing this, give us a call.  We have conducted simple and short or longer more in depth workshops for client teams around this very context.  It opens up lots of interesting options for innovations, but more importantly keeps your company and leaders freshly focused on what makes you special and what is believed to be most important to achieve your big audacious goals for growth!