Who knew?

Probably every SME on the planet. Sorry, big biz, but yet again, you are late to the party. Although thanks for sticking a label on it! Be careful you don’t overuse it (think MBO, CSR etc – anything that was the latest “thing”). Agile is in danger – if you need evidence here’s the inestimable Steve Denning – 3. Combating Agile as a Buzzword.

Whats wrong with labels?

Because the “thing” is pounced on as a panacea, and then moulded to suit the corporate objectives that have existed for seeming centuries. Except they haven’t – only one. The last one. The only one where we, poor saps, gave up our working lives in exchange for more stuff. Now we are stuffed. Times have changed. Big corporates are so slowly changing course. Witness the half-hearted, grudging Shareholder Value is Dead Business Roundtable fudge recently. Too slow. And it’s been done before, not least at the 2014 Drucker Forum (I had some inputs to the paper).

The shell of a business

Big biz has an external carapace. It is designed to protect it from some external influences so it can function efficiently. This shell also somewhat shields it from vital resources. Customers, and to an extent suppliers and other stakeholders. Inward facing is like inbreeding. Too much of the same. The biz trundles on regardless, gathering moss and ill will in its path, sweeping lesser beings aside. And it’s management wonders why employee engagement is so low. They think another top down initiative should crack it. It feels as though they are pretending to be doing the right thing, without much change.

Do big businesses exist in an ecosystem?

Yes. But they think it means that they are at the centre, creating dependencies, exercising control and trying to find wherever they can a form of rent seeking.  Adding eco to system doesn’t make it ecological, logical or eco-friendly in any way.  They have missed the point. An ecosystem is about mutual support, and interdependencies, not control. Ask any tree.

The winds of change

People don’t like the old-style big biz approach. We don’t need the newest thing, which is only marginally better than the thing we already have. Does the latest mobile phone do that much more than your existing one? Probably not, yet still Samsung, Apple et. al. produce a new version every year to ever more muted fanfares. It doesn’t fit well any more.  We don’t live in a throwaway society now, we are not impervious to environmental factors. We want personalised not commoditized. Not for things and certainly not to feel like commodities ourselves in our working lives. Big biz must stop pressing the easy button of control and predictability.

Dead, dead, dead

I’ve been saying for some time that big biz are dead men walking. They don’t think small. And I don’t mean they should act small or that the world belongs to small biz to the exclusion of big biz. I mean they don’t think small.


Small biz know that they have to be accountable – no VW scandals for them. They know their suppliers, customers, team, and possibly their families too. They exist in a community. Mess with one and you mess with many. There are consequences. I don’t mean small biz are better or more moral. I mean they are aware of implications which come back and hurt them and others. They are aware that actions affect people. People they know and who know them. Maybe they are like scurrying mice, nipping between the feet of larger animals, attuned to their surroundings. Maybe they will never aspire to be big.  Maybe that keeps their egos in check.  Small biz know that they exist in an ecosystem, but don’t bother describing it. We are too busy living it.

Big business can change

Big biz can think small and engage it’s people. The Haier Group is a good example. A highly diversified, global brand leader with tiny micro businesses, all capable of their own product development based on customer input. There is a well-documented set of case studies, originally brought to the world’s attention by regular Global Peter Drucker Forum contributor and Haier advisor Bill Fischer, who introduced me to Haier some years ago.

Modern society is thinking small, local, community, ecosystems, aware. Big biz needs to change its dinosaur mentality and start engaging with the world as people, not as though they are man machines. Small biz thinking and mindset is on point. Adapt or die.

Think ecological systems. Think truth and consequences. Think small.