Friday, September 21, 2007


Small is the new big. I lobby this point in the book Deliberate Simplicity, but since the book's release I've seen even more evidence for the sea-change from "bigger is better" to "smaller is sweeter" in manufacturing, retailing and media. For example:

Boeing - The Boeing Corporation was faced with a strategic decision when contemplating "the next generation" of airplane beyond the 767. Airbus, their European rival, decided to go "bigger" and to develop a super-jumbo Jet - a jet that makes the 747 look small. Boeing decided to go "small" and to develop a highly economical, but smaller "Dreamliner." It appears that the Dreamliner will be first to market. Production complications with the Airbus mega-jet have caused top executives to be fired and Airbus to stall. Meanwhile, Chicago-based Boeing is on track to deliver its "deliberately simple" jet, and for the first time in many years has surpassed Airbus in orders, and deliveries. It's not that the Airbus jet won't find a place in the market, but Boeing seems to have tapped into the prevailing trend of direct, smaller "point to point" routes by air carriers. Airbus is hemmed in by the old "hub and spoke" model of air travel.

Nintendo - Two new game systems were released in November, 2006: Nintendo's Wii, and Sony's Playstation III. Both systems found gamers camping out overnight to be first in line. But only the Nintendo has had extended demand issues. This in spite of the fact (maybe because of the fact) that Sony's is feature rich (high definition, Blue Ray DVD, blah, blah blah) with a price point of $600. In contrast, Nintendo's offering is "deliberately simple with a price point of $250. Courageously, Nintendo decided to make its Wii unit play back in standard definition, not high definition, arguing that "it's the games that truly matter." It did, however, add a participatory feature - there are two hand sets - one for each hand - that allow the player to interact with the characters on screen (box with both hands, etc.). Needless to said it is the less-sophisticated Wii that has won over the highly cynical gaming community, not the over-the-top Playstation III. - Two guys in a bedroom with a web cam created a dramatic series that has confounded the major TV networks: lonelygirl15. There is only one on-screen character, an actress named Jessica Rose. Each episode is two minutes long and chronicles the life of a suburban teen, as she discusses her relationships. Some episodes have had as many as one million viewers (successful TV sitcoms have between three hundred and five hundred thousand). Cost to produce? Paltry in comparison to major network productions. And Wired Magazine contributing editor Joshua Davis says that simplicity is actually preferable for this new medium of internet video: "It doesn't need to be lit like a film - that would make it feel less real. The camera work should be simple. There shouldn't be a disembodied third-person camera - a character is always filming the action. Each episode needs to be short, no more than three minutes." This is not your father's television.

I was going to say, "There's a new day coming" but it might be more accurate to say "It's already here." The movement from the mainframe computer to the networked computer (small pieces loosely joined) is a huge sociological shift in our culture, taking us from big to small, from centralized to decentralized, and from passive to participatory. And by "us" I mean "us, the church." Small is going to be the new big in the church too. Stay tuned.


Seth Godin is a best-selling author who just so happens to see the beauty in "small." Here's what he has to say on this topic (maybe substitute the word "church" in your mind throughout)....

Big used to matter.

Big meant economies of scale (You never hear about "economies of tiny" do you?)

Years ago, people, usually guys, often ex-marines, wanted to be CEO of a big company. The Fortune 500 is where people went to make a fortune, after all.

Big meant power and profit and growth.

Big meant control over supply and control over markets.

There was a good reason for this. Value was added in ways that suited big organizations. Value was added with efficient manufacturing, widespread distribution, and very large R&D staffs. Value came from hundreds of operators standing by and from nine-figure TV ad budgets. Value came from a huge sales force.

Of course, it's not just big organizations that added value. Big planes were better than small ones, because they were faster and more efficient. Big buildings were better than small ones because they facilitated communications and used downtown land quite efficiently. Bigger computers could handle more simultaneous users.

Get Big Fast was the motto for start-ups, because big companies can go public and find more access to capital and use that capital to get even bigger. Big accounting firms were the place to go to get audited if you were a big company, because a big accounting firm could be trusted. Big law firms were the place to find the right lawyer, because big law firms were a one-stop shop.

And then small happened.

Enron (big) got audited by Anderson (big) and failed (big). the World Trade Center was a terrorist target. Network (big) TV advertising is collapsing so fast you can hear it. American Airlines (big) is getting creamed by JetBlue (think small). Boing Boing (four people) has a readership growing a hundred times faster than the New Yorker (hundreds of people).

Big computers are silly. They use lots of power and are not nearly as efficient as properly networked Dell PCs (at least that's what they use at Yahoo! and Google). Big boom boxes are replaced by tiny Ipod Shuffles. (Yeah, I know big-screen TVs are the big thing. An exception proves the rule.)

I'm writing this on a laptop at a skateboard park that offers free WiFi for parents to surf the Web while they wait around for their kids. They offer free WiFi because the owner wanted to. It took them a few minutes and $50. No big meetings, corporate policies, or feasibility studies. They just did it.

Today, little companies often make more money than big companies. Little churches grow faster than worldwide ones. Little jets are way faster (door to door) than big ones.

Today, Craigslist (eighteen employees) is the fourth most visited site according to some measures. They are partly owned by eBay (more than four thousand employees), which hopes to stay in the same league, traffic-wise. They're certainly not growing nearly as fast.

Small means that the founder is involved in a far greater percentage of customer interactions. Small means the founder is close to the decisions that matter and can make them quickly.

Small is the new big because small gives you the flexibility to change your business model when your competition changes theirs.

Small means you tell the truth on your blog.

Small means that you can answer e-mail from your customers.

Small means that you will outsource the boring, low-impact stuff like manufacturing and shipping and billing and packing to others while you keep all the power because you invent something that's remarkable and tell your story to people who want to hear it.

A small law firm or accounting firm or ad agency is succeeding because they're good, not because they're big. So smart, small companies are happy to hire them.

A small restaurant has an owner who greets you by name.

A small venture fund doesn't have to fund big, bad ideas in order to put their capital to work. They can make small investments in tiny companies with good ideas.

A small church has a minister with time to visit you in the hospital when you're sick.

It is better to be the head of Craigslist or the head of UPS?

Small is the new big only when the person running the small thinks big.

Don't wait. Get small. Think big.

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