The four archetypes of growth
These basic distinctions of direction and properties create a conceptual skeleton for four main types of growth: linear and more, linear and better, cyclical and more, cyclical and better. Let's flesh them out.

Linear and More (Bigger)

Combining up/linear with more recalls the heroic, simplistic, and childish ideas of growth. When we imagine growth this way, then more = bigger = good. It doesn't matter if you're talking about muscles, money, profits, or wealth; the size of cars, cakes, crowds, houses, planes, or farm herds; or horsepower torque, explosive force, or anything else. It's all good simply because it is growing bigger and/or higher. And the biggest also wins. The heroic archetype is about competing in size, strength, and speed, beating others and avoiding losing or falling down. In this view of growth, the world can be neatly divided in wins and losses. Losing is for losers. Heroes always win. Enemies are defeated. Bigly.

Linear and Better (Mastery)

If we combine up/linear with better, in the sense of better qualities like influence, we find images of growth that have to do with superiority and control. I'm now in better command of whatever it is that is important: people, soldiers, employees, funds, resources. The sizes may not be get

ting bigger, but my impact, career, and power grows. As I move up in the hierarchies of status or social power, I grow in reach and influence. Think of a king growing up and better at ruling his kingdom. Or a strict father44 controlling his house, his family, his children, and his inferiors. The growth results in top-down control—over numbers, morals, or laws, for instance—and the power to define what is better in itself.

Cyclical and More (Abundance)

Unlike the controlling growth of the king or strict father, cyclic and more is about being fecund—highly fertile as in a lush garden, capable of producing abundant new growth. The cow gives birth and bountiful milk to her calf. Spawning fish lay millions of eggs that turn into millions of offspring. Most die, but enough are left to grow and prosper. Growth can happen by regeneration, recycling, rebirth. This archetype explains the emotional appeal of the circular economy as opposed to the linear growth model. Old clothes or carpets can be decomposed and born again as new garments, again and again. The European Union recently put out a directive called "closing the loop," a phrase that illustrates this archetype perfectly: Millions of tons of today's waste are to be remade into new materials, becoming useful and creating more value for each cycle, reborn "forever."

Cyclical and Better (Complexity)

The fourth type combines cyclical growth with better, as in the growth of complexity and of connections. Those who view growth this way do not envision rising up to the pinnacle of power, but rather growing through reaching out to wider networks, adding nodes to the web, weaving an ever finer mesh. The adult brain does not grow in weight; by making more elaborate neural nets, the brain's patterns get qualitatively richer. Also, as a system grows more complex and starts to connect its many parts in new ways, novel characteristics emerge. This growth of emergent properties can often take on unexpected and surprising characteristics. Not just the number of networked nodes, but communication itself can grow in the depth and multiplicity of its meaning. My grasp and understanding of a novel topic, for instance, can get deeper and transform through flashes of new insights that connect in better ways. The cyclical nature of how understanding grows has been described as following a circle of hermeneutic interpretation, as our attention moves back and forth between parts and the whole.

A balance sheet for each country and the Earth: How we can achieve healthy growth—more regenerative than wasteful, instilling equity rather than exacerbating inequalities.
Out now
Maria Katarina T. Michelsen
Per Espen Stoknes
More info on the author, previous books and events,
Made on