Growth means ‘physically getting larger’ or ‘flourishing’. Development means ‘unfurling’ or ‘changing and becoming more complex’.
Growth and development are terms that are often used interchangeably. However, there are several significant differences between these two words.
Appreciating these differences is very important as it enables us to gain a subtler understanding of what it means to grow and to develop.
The difference between growth and development.
Below, you will find ten key differences between growth and development. Many of them will be differences that you had never thought of! But, as you read through this list, there is no denying that these differences all ring true to our ideas of what growth and development mean when these two words are compared and contrasted with each other.
The words ‘growth’ and ‘development’ come from different routes: they have different etymologies. Growth comes from an old Norse word, which means ‘to get bigger’ or to ‘flourish’. Development comes from the Latin for ‘to unfold’ or ‘to unfurl’. Though these two meanings might seem very close in some contexts, there are several important differences between them. Growing and unfolding are certainly not exactly the same things, for example. Moreover, it is worth remembering that ‘development’ is a more latinate word, whilst ‘growth’ is a more Germanic, Norse word.
2. Positive connotations.
Both of these words can have positive connotations, but in a different way. When used in a positive way, the word growth suggests something that is flourishing: doing well in its natural environment. A flower or a weed can flourish, for example. The word development, however, when used in a positive sense, suggests something that is getting better and becoming more complex. For example, as a human child becomes an adult, we say that they are developing as well as growing, because they are acquiring more complex skills and more sophisticated ways of seeing the world.
3. Negative connotations.
When used in a negative way, the words growth and development can mean slightly different things. When something negative (for instance an upsetting situation) develops, it gets more complex and sophisticated, revealing more and more ramifications. When something negative grows, it simply increases in size. So, for example, a tumor is an unwanted ‘growth’ in the body, but if that tumor develops, it becomes more complex and creates further complications. Do not worry, though: all negative situations, whether they are growing or developing, have a solution within reach. This example was merely given to illustrate another difference between the words ‘growth’ and ‘development’.
4. Human development.
Humans both grow and develop. These words here mean two different things. When a human being grows, they get physically larger in size: for example, they get taller and taller as the years progress. When a human being develops, however, their mind becomes more sophisticated and they become more emotionally mature. A good way to illustrate this difference is to consider the fact that humans can develop without growing. For example, when our bodies stop growing, our minds can nevertheless continue developing: acquiring new ideas, learning new things, and getting new perspectives on the world.
5. A sense of mystery.
When something develops, we do not always know how it is going to develop. By contrast, when something grows, we can usually envisage what it will look like in the future: something that is very similar to what it is now, just larger in size. Developments in our lives can often seem mysterious to us whilst they are underway. Because development tends to be about change and increasing complexity, we cannot always see how a given aspect of our lives will develop, and what it will be like once it has developed. That means that paying attention to our personal development is an excellent route to deepening our self knowledge.
It might be argued that it is easier to grow than to develop. Growing tends to simply mean increasing in size, or flourishing in a natural way. Developing, however, can mean to unfurl or to reveal something that was hidden. Making something bigger is often – though not always – easier than delving into hidden depths to reveal something complex and mysterious.
7. As organic metaphors.
Growth and development are both somewhat organic metaphors. We speak of a plant, tree or animal growing, for example, when we imagine it getting bigger and flourishing and being healthy. However, when we talk of a plant developing, we usually imagine a bud unfurling or an organism changing in some way. We would not say that a caterpillar grows into a butterfly, for instance: we would say, rather, that it develops into a butterfly.
8. Suitability for talking of abstract thought.
The word ‘development’ is generally more suited to abstract ideas. We speak of our thoughts and ideas developing rather than growing. We talk about developing, rather than growing, a plan. These are just a few examples of how, when we want to talk about something complex, or something that involves several steps, we tend to use the word development rather than the word growth.
9. Suitability for talking of physical objects.
When a physical object increases in size, it is usually more suitable to use the word ‘growth’ to describe this increase. When we are blowing up a balloon, for example, it is more appropriate to say that the balloon grows rather than that it develops.
10. The sound of the words.
These two words also have different sounds. Growth is a monosyllabic word, whilst development is a polysyllable. This perhaps reflects the fact that development is often – in contrast to growth – a more complex phenomenon.
Though people often use the words ‘growth’ and ‘development’ as if they are exactly the same thing, it is clear that this is not the case. As you can see from the discussion above, growth and development have different meanings in different context. In general, though, it can be said that whilst growth is about a simple positive increase in size, development is a more complex and many stage process. We can grow and develop at the same time, or we can do one without the other. How have you been developing personally? Are there any aspects of your personal development that you would like to work on in the future?