My son turns 21 this month, but it doesn’t take too much effort to remember when he came fresh into this world and was changing, developing and growing almost before our eyes. Now he’s a mature young man, and the changes come more slowly and are harder to notice.
Our guiding light as new parents was a book by pediatrician, T. Berry Brazelton, called, “Touchpoints.” The central premise was that children do, literally, grow overnight. They have “touchpoints” of growth and cognitive improvement. The idea that we grow and improve a little bit at a time in a steady progression is false. The truth is our bodies and minds grow in leaps and bounds.
At one of these touchpoints, such as a baby learning to talk, he often struggles with improvements he had made before, such as walking. He also is fussier and doesn’t sleep as well. Then, boom! He grows, he changes and he’s onto the next build-up to the next touchpoint. Those touchpoints can be difficult for parents because their child is operating outside the norm of behavior for that child. Good sleepers become poor sleepers. Quiet babies become needy babies. They are tough points as well as touch points. I believe industries and businesses follow the same pattern of growth. Often you hear about steady growth and improvement, and for most of the time that is what we experience. A reasonable, incremental change and improvement.
But every once in awhile, boom! A huge leap in growth or massive change comes. It is at those crucial moments that we are most vulnerable. And, like newborns learning a skill, we often forget our previously learned lessons. So, how do we handle these business touchpoints?
We prepare and plan for them. If you want to grow your business, you do the legwork and prepare it for very fast, significant growth. You have to have systems to make sure new employees can be trained and understand your way of building. You have to have a back office to be able to ramp up the service to the rest of the building. You have to know where the danger spots are so you can avoid or repress them.
If you believe that slow and steady growth is the norm, when you do have that sudden growth spurt, either through acquisition or unexpected business, you are actually putting yourself in danger. I know contractors who have calculated that a job more than three or four times their largest project is too big of a risk for their company to take on. They will pass on the opportunity, and, if they’re unprepared, that is probably a smart move. But if you want to grow, that touchpoint, that big contract, that huge order, that new service needs to be anticipated and your company needs to be ready.
It is much more difficult for industries to plan for these touchpoints. Often, they’re economic spurts or drops. Right now, we’re edging slowly out of the bottom of an economic cycle that was nearly devastating.
Our growth is grudging and frustrating. But there are dangers in fast growth. Material prices increases and labor shortages could forestall our ability to handle the growth. What can we do, as an industry, to prepare for the next big leap?
In our annual “State of the Industry” report on page 20, five industry leaders talk about exactly where we are and what we can anticipate coming down the pike. As you read this feature, keep in mind the concept of touchpoints, and evaluate their insight based on where your company is and your preparedness for the next touchpoint.