Saturday, August 7, 2010

Small Giants – A book review of sorts

Kenneth Klassman of Horwood Marcus & Berk lent me his copy of Small Giants. (Bo Burlingham, 2005) It's about a number of business owners who decided to make (or keep) their businesses great at the expense of growth.

The book is mainly about this trade off. Being great, like consistent growth, is hard to sustain. The bigger catch is that being great is hard to define, whereas being bigger is more easily measured. The author tries to bottle "greatness", though doesn't quite succeed in my opinion. Along the way, however, we learn how these owners identified and took the less traveled fork.

While, like most business books, it could do with significant editing, there are many things I liked:

1) It was not fiction. Too many "business" books lately are about fictional companies that fall neatly into re-imagined paradigms to make the author's point. Real world is messy. Real business is messier. I mistrust business strategists that have to fabricate companies to fit their strategies. These writers' other, bigger problem is they also think they can write fiction. The ideas are often weak and the stories are poorly written. The people and companies in Small Giants are real, so you get insights into real-world decision paths that you might also someday face ... and a few solid marketing tactics.

2) It clearly highlights the outside pressure business owners get to grow their business, often without considering the business owner's personal goals. Business owners are under a great deal of pressure to grow their business. The higher your "score" the better you are as a businessperson. As someone who has "settled" (someone else's word, not mine) for a small company, I was pleased to read a counterpoint to success being building what you could, not what you want. It's not easy to grow a business. People that can make their companies bigger have a real and significant talent. But building the business you want is just as tough. To be fair, I know of a lot of businesses that are neither. Having the choice is a high class problem. And good for you if you can get there.

3) It provides plenty of valuable takeaways. Most good business books have one or two ideas that are worth the entire read. Small Giants is worth it for the "starfish" parable alone, but has, by my count, five more ideas that, each, would be worth the 215 page read.

I won't spoil the starfish story, but after reading that section I knew why I was so bothered by a process one of my clients put into place. The new process was efficient, both from a standpoint of time and money. But it was not the right thing to do.

The next day I put in place an effort to fix the process, even though only a few people might benefit. Perhaps as few as one or two. And it might take a significant amount of effort for this limited success. But the few people deserve it. And shame on us for not trying when we knew, in our hearts, that the less efficient path was the better one.

In short, Small Giants is well worth reading and I thank Kenny for the loan.

No comments:

Post a Comment