You've probably read that 80% of new jobs are created in small business.  Even if this is true, it creates a misconception. You'd think that we need to start lots of new companies.  As BusinessWeek reported in "Looking for More High Growth Start-ups" 40% of new jobs are created by a mere 1% of start-ups.  The really fast growers.

We like to think that all companies contribute job growth to the economy.  But that is simply not true. In reality, the vast majority of businesses contribute no new jobs.  In fact, they are reducing employment.  Almost all of the job growth, in fact almost all of the economic growth, comes from a very small number of companies that account for almost all the real growth.  These are the 10% of companies that are in the Rapids.  All others are either looking for early growth, or trying to "hang on" to an outdated Success Formula and seeing their business slowly (or not so slowly) erode.


Most small businesses are in the Wellspring.  Looking for some kind of growth.  Most of these – literally 90% – never really figure out a Success Formula that drives growth, and they simply die off.  The other big group of businesses are somewhere in the Flats or Swamp.  Growth has left them, as market shifts have taken demand to other competitors.  They are facing a Re-Invention Gap between what they do and what most customers really want.  As a result, they produce no inflation-adjusted revenue growth, and no new jobs.  Eventually, as the re-invention gap grows, they drift into the Swamp of declining returns.  Eventually they become obsolete.  Think about independent pharmacies, most insurance agents, small banks, bicycle shops – you get the idea. 

So where do we get new jobs?  From the companies that are in the Rapids.  Think about the skkyrocketing employment at places like Boeing and airlines when aviation was a growth industry in the 1960s through the 1980s.  And the growth in computer and IT jobs in the 1990s.  Those businesses that participatd in the Rapids are participating in market shifts, and they are creating new revenues and jobs.

Today a good example is Google.  While traditional companies are lamenting "a bad economy" Google is participating in the market shift, and thus creating revenue growth and new jobs.  At, in "Google Team Offers Lessons in Innovation, Project Management", we can read how the GMail team discussed at the recent South by Southwest Conference their approach to remaining in the Rapids.  While other organizations are frozen in place, trying to Defend what they've always done, and thereby falling into the Swamp, Google keeps pushing forward with new solutions that help customers do new things — and thus create additional growth.

Apple, Amazon and Cisco are additional examples of organizations that are using Disruptions and White Space to keep their companies participating in market shifts.  As a result, they've kept growing in 2008, 2009 and into 2010.  They don't blame the economy, they keep innovating and taking new solutions to market.  Thus they grow.  Those companies that are blaming the economy are simply spending too much time trying to Defend & Extend their old Success Formula, and drifting into obsolescence.

Even big, entrenched companies can grow.  The Wall Street Journal recently interviewed the CEO of Austalia's phone company, Telstra, in "If You Don't Deliver Numbers You Aren't Doing Your Job." He points out that as CEO his most important role is to keep the company growing.  He could easily have gotten stuck thinking of his business as a traditional, land-line telco.  But his role is to balance the management of an old Success Formula with implementing White Space which can evolve his company forward into a post-modern communications company with new technologies and new solutions.  As a result, what could be thought of as a bureaucratic monopoly is much more successful, growing through its participation in market shifts.

Alternatively, we have AT&T, and its former leader Mr. Whitacre now ensconced at General Motors.  The original AT&T almost went bankrupt before being acquired by what was Southwestern Bell – then renamed to AT&T.  AT&T kept losing jobs by the tens of thousands – as did the regional Bell Companies.  Mr. Whitacre, with his "caretaker" approach to the old Success Formula, simply kept buying up old pieces of the original AT&T and laying off more people.  Today AT&T is a shell of what it was in the early 1980s when split apart.  It is not an aggressive part of the market shift, nor is it growing like Telstra.

And Mr. Whitacre is now at GM.  Another company that is deeply mired in the Swamp – and very unlikely to avoid the Whirlpool.  GM is not leading in any market shifts, and as a result its sales are not growing – nor is its employment.  Lacking participation in growing markets, GM will continue shedding revenues and jobs as it marches toward obsolescence.

Myths about lifecycles abound.  The biggest is that if you stick to your core, you will keep growing.  Somehow you will jump from one new product line to the next, and maintain growth.  But it just doesn't happen.  Focusing on your core causes you to drop out of growth as market shifts make you irrelevant – like Wang, Lanier, Digital Equipment, Silicon Graphics and Sun Microsystems.  Growth slows, employment shrinks.  To succeed you have to continuously participate in market shifts, to keep yourself in the Growth Rapids.  And for our economy, we desperately need more leaders to refocus on creating Disruptions and White Space to grow – like Google – if we are to get the U.S. economy growing again.