As I was walking out of my house today, I noticed the new green shoots that are starting to show up in my garden. It was a surprise to see that these shoots had grown over 2 inches since yesterday, but the recent warm weather and rain created perfect conditions for a big spurt of growth. This dramatic change in my garden makes me think about what people are capable of in terms of their own growth. It is the perfect reminder that with the perfect conditions, we are all able to grow in big (sometimes surprising) increments.

Incremental vs. Non-linear Growth Assumptions

In organizational leadership, we tend to think that all growth is incremental. So, we lead with small steps that over time help us to meet our goal. In Nature, there isn’t a set increment of growth, there are varieties. For example, the plants in my garden went from barely visible,  to over 3 inches high in 24 hours. If we lead with the possibility of that kind of growth in our organizations, would it change our assumptions of how organizations change? Would it change our goals and challenge our thinking about the speed and directions of change?

Both Nature and humans experience growth spurts. As teenagers, we experience growth spurts that cause us to ache and be tired while the rest of our bodies catch up to non-incremental changes that are happening. Spring growth spurts are a good reminder of what humans and human organizations are capable of achieving.

Meeting the challenges of the moment

Earth Day was last week and the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) came out this month. We are in a “code red” for humanity and our planet. Every day we have leaders of political bodies and corporations making decisions that will create unlivable conditions for plants, animals, and humans. And yet, we proceed as if this incremental change is the only kind possible. Growth in Nature is a reminder to us all that there are other possibilities – and we need to rapidly catch up. 

All of our organizations and institutions have been under stress from the pandemic. We have had to adapt to things we never imagined could happen. This shows us that our institutions (health, education, political, financial, organizations, etc.) are more fragile and less resilient than we previously thought. The social justice inequities that have been tolerated before are no longer acceptable. The pandemic has given us the gift of slowing down enough to notice what is not working. Many of us have had a direct experience of some system we are in touch with that didn’t work for us or people we know. 

Transformational change is desperately needed

We need to change the way we think, work, organize and connect with our planet. We need to see how our choices and decisions have a long-term impact on the quality of life our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will have. We need to choose to take action within a limited time frame to help us change the direction of our planet. 

The first step to leading this kind of change is seeing non-linear jumps of progress and using this way of thinking to reimagine how we can move forward. We have a limited time frame to respond before the consequences of inaction or slow action create larger challenges. Take a moment to contemplate what nature knows so well. When the conditions are favorable, big growth spurts are possible!