Short Thoughts

Unlocking Growth: Embracing the ‘Why Not?’ Approach in Business and Career

Reading biological books is one of my favourite pastime activities. Recently, the behemoth PE company Blackstone hit $1T in AUM, reaching its ambition three years ahead. As I started to read the founder’s account in ‘What It Takes,’ I stumbled on this seminal quote that explains its growth strategy:

“The [way] we thought about building our business was to keep challenging ourselves with an open-ended question: Why not? If we came across the right person to scale a business in a great investment class, why not? If we could apply our strengths, our network, and our resources to make that business a success, why not? Other firms, we felt, defined themselves too narrowly, limiting their ability to innovate. They were advisory firms, or investment firms, or credit firms, or real estate firms. Yet they were all pursuing financial opportunities.”

In part, I was surprised this had to be said, and in another part, I can understand why it wasn’t the norm.

Why I was surprised: I have spent the last 5 years in consulting firms, moving from PwC to EY. The way I’ve observed business being done is that new ‘partners’ are admitted based on their ability to grow the business. Even more so if it were to expose the firm to a new kind of business that it was not involved in before. Essentially, asking ‘Why not?’ as long as present advantages can be leveraged to grow the new business. So I’ve always thought that was the norm.

Why I was not surprised: it’s understandable that a company would want to concentrate on their advantages, become a specialist in some niche, and do business they understand alone. That alone would be complex enough. But it appears to me that such an approach puts a lower limit on your ambition.

How is this relevant to you?

I have always maintained that the same principles that are relevant to the management of companies are equally important to the management of our careers. The most resilient career is not one that is the absolute best at programming. Rather, it is one that is the best at programming, can communicate effectively, and understands how the puzzles of business fit together. Essentially, it is one that constantly asks ‘Why not?’ Why can’t I know more? Why can’t I become more as long as they complement my existing advantages?

See here where I have written something complementary earlier.