Preserve, Destroy, Create: Your Only Path to Breakthrough Growth

Marissa Levin
Marissa Levin
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“If it’s not broken, why fix it?”

We’ve all said that as a justification for not moving forward with a difficult situation or decision. The question is, what if the status quo is broken and we’re just ignoring the need for repair? What if we lack the awareness, clarity, courage, or strength to take painful action to get to a better place?

Three Buckets of Activity

Over lunch with my executive coach, Mike Harden ( I learned that business activity falls into three buckets: Preservation, Destruction, or Creation. These buckets can actually be applied to any life situation, from something serious like ending a relationship,  to something “easy” like cleaning out your closet or changing your diet/workout habits.

For the purposes of this column, we’ll stick to how these buckets show up in our organizations and affect our ability to grow.

Preservation: Keeping the lights on

Most organizational activity can be categorized as “Preservation.” Everything a business owner does to keep the company running falls into this bucket: paying bills, running payroll, keeping customers happy, keeping employees even when perhaps someone isn’t the very best fit for growth but they’re reliable and consistent. Preservation activities are typically tied to profits and margins – and stability.

All of these activities are necessary but too much of a focus on them creates a short-term mindset, or a mindset that is focused on immediate needs. Preservation happens when a company expends energy on leveraging existing competencies, rather than developing new competencies, or worrying about today’s competitors, rather than scanning the landscape for new entrants.

Destruction: Courage to discard the broken and outdated

Preservation is required to keep the business operating. However, for a business to grow, it must closely analyze what isn’t working. This is where the Destruction phase comes in.

Not everything we do today works for us. It takes courage, but to move forward, we need to selectively forget the past.  This may mean closing down a business line that is failing to grow, or terminating a customer that nickels-and-dimes us, or rewriting processes that were created years ago for a different environment.

What should a business stop doing that isn’t paying off? What old technologies or outdated policies should be discarded? Which customers or employees are no longer a fit for the company? What advisors that are around you are stuck in the present, rather than advising for the future?

To quote one of my all-time favorite authors Marshall Goldsmith, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.”  (

Familiarity often leads to fear of change. Especially in organizations where cleaning house can be extremely disruptive, we often stick with what’s in place to avoid the temporary upheaval. However, it’s the pain of the change that brings the reward of the growth.

Creation: Infusing new life

Creation activities prepare your company for long-term growth – beyond survival. They allow a company – and its owner – to push through a plateau to go to the next level. Without intentional Creation, companies find themselves in catch-up mode, behind the wave instead of in front of it.

Creation activities include technology innovations, new hires that bring new ideas (not just more of the same), and experimentation with new ways of doing things fast and smarter. For the business owner, it means breaking out of comfortable and familiar peer groups, and listening to non-traditional voices.

One of my favorite books to inspire new ways of thinking about business models is “Business Model Generation” by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur (

Linear vs. non-linear thinking

Creation also means breaking away from linear thinking in which a company simply makes a current product better.

Non-linear thinking doesn’t make a product better; it makes a new product. It requires the ability to forget the past, move beyond organizational memory, and create a new future. It’s looking at all situations with a “wouldn’t-it-be-cool-if…” perspective to formulate ideas on where you want to be in the future.

Moving from surviving to thriving

So how does a company incorporate the three phases of Preservation, Destruction, and Creation? It starts with awareness of the idea that some practices just have to go. Simply being aware of the need to make a change is the first step in making it. This step, followed by the change itself (to include getting rid of the old to make room for the new), leads to breakthrough growth.

Awareness, courage, action, reward. The recipe for making the changes you need to take your organization to the next level.

Challenge exercise

Challenge exercise for your company:  Have you considered challenging your management team to identify elements that need to go? Require each person to identify two things in the company that aren’t working. “Everything’s working fine” isn’t acceptable.

You’ll be surprised at what you’ll uncover.

Let us know how it works out for you. Good luck!



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