Small. It doesn’t sound very exciting. It sounds unimportant. Insignificant even. Especially when it comes to comparisons with large companies and their 6 figure turnovers, thousands of employees, numerous investors and shareholders and so on.
But when it comes to new thinking – be it strategic or creative - it’s small companies, more than the big ones, shaping the agenda.
One’s like ours and many others are working with large commercial and not-for-profit organisations to help them rethink some of the how’s and why’s of what they do. It’s not that they couldn’t do it on their own but many of them are just not built to do it.
There’s often a whole layer of management that works within a pretty narrow frame of reference. So, until they can see how their accepted wisdoms can create barriers to new ideas, innovation and real, positive change will not be quickly forthcoming.
Take AT&T for example. In 1971 they declined to buy and run the ARPA technology that would eventually become the Internet. The US Government had concluded its experiment so it was there for the taking.
Larry Roberts, one of its four creators recalled, “…AT&T had a huge meeting…and they made a serious decision and they said it was incompatible with their network. They couldn’t possibly consider it. It was not something they could use. Or sell.”
The technology didn’t fit with their network. And they failed to think about how they could change to accomodate it. Or to put it another way, it simply fell outside of their comfort zone.
The path to innovation means you don’t always know where you’ll land. And this can destabilise big organisations. It rocks their steady boat. It implies a chance of failure and why would they do that? Their success has often come from being risk averse. So, they tend to work on the fringes, where an upgrade or modification masquerades as innovation.
To quote the American writer and futurist, Alvin Toffler, “The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read or write but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn”.
If only AT&T had heard that at their meeting…
New thinking will rarely come from the ones with big R&D budgets, extensive support teams or those at the mercy of internal politics. There are too many things deemed too precious to change, too many individual agendas, too much to undo.
Besides, revolutions tend to start from the bottom, not the top.
Real change will come from the people who deem the only thing that matters is making a difference. If we hold our nerve, maintain our focus and stand by what we do, we think small can play a bigger role than ever.
Are you a business struggling to innovate? Do you find it difficult to seize your opportunities? We’re keen to work with people to help kick start their brands and we’d love to hear your story. Get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org