A Simple Equation for Growth

Explaining the three attributes it takes in order to expand your horizons and meet growing complexity (free excerpt)

Carter Gibson
4 min readApr 2, 2024
Woman holding a coffee cup looking wistfully out the window.

This story is an excerpt from my Medium Partners-only longer version which you read here.

Growth = Ability + Openness + Exposure

I. Ability

Ability is the toolkit your brain brings to every challenge. People have a certain set of tools in their chest to solve problems. Some of these tools are innate, like their heart or magnanimous personality. Others are learned, like a trade or processes your job requires.

Ability encompasses the skills you’ve developed to expand your problem solving capabilities — everything from learning how to code to writing words good (did you catch that?) to the finesse required to present your ideas clearly. How you perceive the world, critically assess it, and effectively communicate your viewpoints is foundational in order to process and explain the information coming at you.

Your intellect is also critical to defining your ability. I’m sensitive to the word “intellect” as someone who is not a bookworm and who was genuinely horrified when I learned my first Google interview was in the category of “General Cognitive Ability.” So scary. But what I’ve grown to learn is that intellect looks different person-to-person, industry-to-industry. Critically, intellect can be developed and strengthened with the right amount of care, dedication, and opportunity. Everyone starts at lesson one before learning lesson ten.

Learning how to meet organizational complexity requires strategic thinking to apply your toolkit. You need a strong perception to grasp the big picture, the critical thinking to parse it down into manageable components, and the strategic skill to rally others towards a solution. You can’t just have technical expertise. You need social agility to navigate complex relationships.

The beautiful thing about intellect is its limitless potential. Through learning, practice, and a willingness to dive into the unknown, anyone can continually expand our problem-solving abilities. Speaking of that willingness…

II. Openness

Successful evolution demands flexibility. You need to be open to new perspectives, ways of doing things, and receptive to the things changing around you that no one will explicitly explain to you.

Within the context of tackling organizational complexity, you have to recognize that the organization is constantly adjusting around you. It’s reacting to forces you may sometimes be aware of already, but, more often than not, ones you aren’t.

Daryll once, forcefully-but-kindly, told me that I shouldn’t think about my role as someone who preserved culture. “You preserve things that are dead. Living things evolve.” That hit me hard. I was being closed off. And if I was going to close myself off or be rigid in my thinking, I wasn’t going to have a chance to get the experience I wanted.

But openness isn’t just a mindset — it translates into action. You need the willingness to seek out colleagues with different perspectives, to challenge your own assumptions, and to experiment with unconventional solutions. This will unlock insights into the hidden dynamics that shape organizational complexity. With this awareness and receptiveness, you can anticipate change rather than simply react to it.

Finally, a lot of people like to say that they’re open. They may be going through the motions to engage folks with new perspectives, but they’re listening to speak or convince — not to learn. This is normal. Being open is a vulnerable state. And businesspeople hate being vulnerable. I mean… everyone sorta hates being vulnerable, but especially businesspeople. Check yourself on this journey. Ask yourself if you’re actually being receptive.

Openness begets understanding. And understanding helps you solve tougher problems better and is additive to your ability.

Daryll wanted to make sure I credit Joseph Dries on this important attribute and the way we discussed it. Thanks Joseph!

III. Exposure

Finally, you need exposure. Exposure is many things. It can be attending a meeting with a senior lead or getting lunch with more junior teammates. It could be discovering document from several years ago or encountering a new situation. Whatever “it” is, you need to be exposed in order to apply your intellect or practice open mindedness.

Sometimes we can’t help what we’re exposed to. The pandemic is a good example of a time we were all exposed to new challenges and had to work through them. Working from home, supply chain issues, information security concerns, shifting revenue streams, etc. You can be open all day, every day, but growth demands new situations.

Now, not every opportunity for exposure is as extreme as the pandemic. It’s important to self-curate experiences that will stretch you, but not break you.

It’s also worth acknowledging that this attribute is the one most out of your control. Sure, you can seek out new experiences or information on your own, but this one greatly benefits from an incredible manager who knows just how far to expose you and when. You want someone here who understands your capabilities as well as the chinks in your armor. You need to be shown where to jump — a place where, if you miss, you’ll land a ledge and not fall all the way down.

Be vocal about how much exposure you have and how much you need.

Over time, your manager’s careful guidance shapes you into someone who can navigate complexity with confidence. You become the type of leader who recognizes patterns, who anticipates problems, and who isn’t overwhelmed by the sheer interconnectedness of a dynamic organization.

You can not grow without exposure. Sure, you can boost your abilities or be open to new perspectives, but growth demands putting them into practice.



Carter Gibson

Community Management strategist & Program Manager | Internal Community Programs Lead @ Google | Excitable Geek | Lover of spectacle | I write about my passions