Where’s the Growth?

By: Steve Little, Principal with The Disruption Lab

In 1984, the fast-food chain, Wendy’s, introduced the catchphrase “Where’s the beef?” The campaign drew attention to the fact that Wendy’s served a large hamburger patty on a normal size bun while their competitors (McDonald’s and Burger King) served a small patty on a really large bun. The actress, Clara Peller, when served a big bun with a small patty, exclaims, “Where’s the beef?” In this campaign, Wendy’s implied that the big chains were deceptive. You see the big bun and think you’re getting a big burger, but in fact, you’re only getting a small serving.

Too often, companies are guilty of similar deceptions with their boards and owners. But most of these companies aren’t even aware that they are propagating a deception.

Seldom will company leaders meet with their board and owners without having to address the question of growth. Growth, profitable growth, is imperative. Growth is what we invest in. Any company without a plan for growth will find very few willing investors and lenders. So, every company has a growth plan. But if you look closely at these plans, like Clara Peller, you may be compelled to exclaim, “Where’s the beef?”

Innovation is the fuel that drives growth. Efficiency innovations can lower costs and enable more competitive pricing strategies. Sustaining innovations, the “new and improved” strategy, helps us more effectively compete for market share. However, these innovations alone will not drive the kind of profitable growth needed to be of interest to investors and lenders. These innovations are about getting a bigger piece of a fixed pie.

Disruptive innovation, on the other hand, is about creating a bigger pie, or perhaps even a new pie. These are the innovations that can deliver real growth, and in some cases, exponential growth.

If disruptive innovation is not a material part of your innovation investment portfolio, I’m afraid your run the risk of presenting a “sustaining” plan disguised as a “growth” plan. Can you answer the question, “Where’s the growth?”


Steve is a Principal of The Disruption Lab. Prior to joining The Disruption Lab, Steve served as the Principal Consultant for the Strategic Solutions Group at InfoWorks, a regional business and technology consulting firm based in Nashville, TN. While his consulting engagements at InfoWorks spanned several industries, the majority of his work was in healthcare.​

Much of Steve’s career has been in executive leadership roles at Ingram Content Group (formerly Ingram Book Group). Over his 15 years with Ingram, Steve was part of a high performance executive team that drove significant growth in revenue and profits through innovative customer partnerships and services. Steve’s leadership was characterized by adeptly leveraging technology and building responsive organizations through organizational design and development. Steve’s business experience ranges from technical responsibilities such as operations research, business analysis, and systems development to senior management responsibilities as CEO, Chairman, and board director.​​

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