The Four Zones of Business Growth Illustrated

I recently read this post about leadership lessons from Hootsuite founder and CEO Ryan Homes. Lesson 10 is “If you can’t draw it, you can’t explain it.”


I’ve been a doodler throughout my career and I wholeheartedly agree. Not only is drawing a way to check in with yourself about how much you understand about a topic, but it’s also a simple yet engaging way to communicate ideas with others. Even when pitching a momentous shift in business model, from B2B2C to D2C or “directish” as I called it at Assurant, I drew it!


Drawings are a great way to knock the fear and complexity out of business ideas. They focus people’s attention, they visually highlight the important information, and they encourage collaboration.


All of my meetings with prospective clients or speaking gigs start with something like this:


This is how I level-set with the other executives in the room and show them I understand where they’re coming from.


When we officially kick off an engagement, we align the client team and our GXGers around an ecosystem visual covering the “things to be learned” like this one:

This is a shorthand for the learning gaps a client has shared and how they relate to one another and the larger goal.


Today, I want to share with you a new image inspired by the wide variety of conversations I’ve had with executives in industries as diverse as healthcare, energy, consumer products, financial services, and retail. When it comes to strategy and where companies get stuck in today’s business environment, I’ve noticed that stuck happens anytime organizations are reaching outside their current knowledge and experience to grow. The degree to which they are stuck typically increases the further they are trying to reach.

 This illustration shows the four major “growth zones” we see companies moving through and some of the activities they might undertake in each.

  1. The first circle is where a company is comfortable operating, focusing on an established core business and likely full of deeply experienced senior leaders with specialized knowledge.
  2. Many organizations have little trouble stretching into the second circle, looking just outside the core for new geographies or close-in adjacencies. However, companies that experienced relatively easy growth in their core business may get stuck here on how to differentiate themselves in new or wider markets.
  3. The third circle is probably where we find most of our clients at GXG: strong businesses looking for a new competitive edge.
  4. The fourth circle represents truly disruptive shifts in business. This is the realm we typically think of as exclusive to startups, but some of the larger technology companies necessarily compete at this level and industry leaders across disciplines are helping their organizations catch up.

The most important thing about this image, though, is to remember that this doesn’t represent a linear process. Each time a company undertakes a new growth-focused initiative they reach into one of these rings. If they are successful, the knowledge and experience it took to get there becomes incorporated into the core business. A new strategic direction is another stretch outward. This is why it is so important for senior leaders to constantly learn and bring learning into their organizations. Growth demands it!

Every month we collect the latest insights from our research and client work to share.