Think Big, Act Small: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: June 23rd, 2011 by bobmorris

Think Big, Act Small: How America’s Best Performing Companies Keep the Start-up Spirit Alive
Jason Jennings
Portfolio/Penguin (2005)

As I read this volume, I was reminded of at least some of the material in Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and, especially, the strategies of deception and disorientation that are recommended in a section called “Estimates” in Samuel B. Griffith’s superb translation. For example: “All warfare is based on deception. Therefore, when capable, feign incapacity; when active, inactivity. When near, make it appear that you are far away; when far away, that you are near. Offer the enemy a bait to lure him; feign disorder and strike him. When he concentrates, prepare against him; where he is strong, avoid him. Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance. When he is united, divide him. Attack when he is unprepared; sally out when he does not expect you.” You get the idea.

Jennings is a staunch and eloquent advocate of this principle: Do much more and do it much better, faster, and do it with less. OK, but how? The answer to that question was revealed by rigorous and extensive research that he and his two associates, Brian Solon and Greg Powell, conducted. They began with 70,000 companies as candidates for designation as the best performing companies in the U.S. Among all of them, which have increased their revenue and profits by at least 10% for ten years or longer? Only nine qualified: Cabela’s, Dot Foods, Koch Industries, Medline Industries, O’Reilly Automotive, PETCO Animal Supplies, SAS Institute, Sonic Drive-in, and Strayer Education.

Back to “How?” Jennings identifies ten “Building Blocks” which, in combination, explain why each of those in an obviously mixed bag of companies has been and continues to be a best performer (i.e. among the top one-hundredth of 1% of all U.S. companies). It would be a disservice to both Jennings and to those who read this brief commentary to list them and then comment on each out of the context within which Jennings so skillfully presents them. Suffice to say that all organizations (regardless of their size or nature) need to have all ten Building Blocks as a core foundation on which to increase their revenue and profits by at least 10% and then continue to do so year after year after year.

Ultimately, one of the most formidable challenges for those in any organization is to achieve and then maintain an appropriate balance of “thinking BIG” while “acting small.” Hence the importance of Section Three, “The Quad: A Self-Evaluation and Ranking,” in which Jennings “breaks down the title of the book into four scenarios, each represented by a quadrant”:

TSAS Think Small, Act Small
TSAB Think Small, Act Big
TBAB Think Big, Act Big
TBAS Think Big, Act Small

He applies this template to each of the ten Building Blocks. It remains for each reader to complete the self-evaluation, one that helps to measure her or his own organization’s current situation. The details of this exercise are best revealed within the text, pages 189-201.

 

 

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