Beware the Brown Butt Rot ...

The Nature of Growth & Maintenance - Part I

In nature, maintenance modifies growth in order to sustain life
In business, growth often outpaces maintenance - causing death

“Brown Butt Rot” is an infection of old-growth timber created by fungus. The fungus enters through fire scars or wounded roots and eats the tasty wood at the center of the tree, killing it from the inside out. The larger and older an organization is, the more likely it is that death will be caused by internal decay, similar to Rome or any organization that dies before it is a century old. Logic would suggest that the collective intelligence embedded in an organization should keep it adaptive, allowing it to live longer. This is not the case. It is rare to find an organization that lives to see the century mark.

IN NATURE, as a system grows in size, complexity and diversity, more and more energy is required to maintain it, leaving less energy available for growth. When this happens, growth either slows or stops. When there is not enough energy available for the basic maintenance of the system, the system dies. From a biological perspective, death is not the failure of something, but the failure to maintain it. We witness this type of death in our businesses, in our towns and in our relationships. The oldest living things on the planet are trees that have grown only inches over centuries. They sustain life by growing slowly if at all, putting all the energy available toward maintenance. This preserves the quality of life by preventing disease and decay. The quality of life, not the pace of growth, is the secret to success and a sustainable life.

IN BUSINESS, we often forsake quality in pursuit of growth and invite disease or decay as a result. Our stakeholders want to see us increase in size. Grow or die is the belief. Grow then die is more often the truth.

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