Act Small, Think Big

By Jon Miller Published on October 29th, 2008

Act small, think big: this is a borrowed phrase from a recent post on Seth Godin’s blog article titled Too Small to Fail. In this article he shares a profound common sense insight on the effect of size of thoughts and actions on the success of businesses and organizations. This passage captures the theme:
If you act small and think big, you are too small to fail. You won’t need a bailout because your business makes sense each and every day. You won’t need a bailout because your flat organization (no matter how large it is) knows about problems long before they’re too big to deal with.
Let’s think about how this applies to the practice of process innovation and world class business practices, a.k.a. lean management and continuous improvement:
Thinking big means expecting everybody to use their creativity every day towards improving customer experience and teamwork. Acting small means trying out minor adjustments to our processes, making minor changes workplace or looking for small time-waster situations and taking steps to improve.

Thinking big
means that “zero” is a reasonable expectation for defects, accidents, equipment breakdowns and excess inventory. Acting small means noticing and correcting the smallest of the chronic flaws and deviations in processes before they become larger sporadic failures.
Thinking big means imagining innovative new product and services for the markets. Acting small means going to the field and interacting with customers actually using the product or service and humbly reflecting on these lessons learned, even when it means reversing cherished decisions on technology, marketing direction or milestones on product road maps.
Act small: produce in small lots
Think big: aim for 100% on-time delivery and customer satisfaction
Act small: go to personally check out the situation
Think big: believe that perfection is worth pursuing through tenacious follow-up
Act small: give cross-functional teams of 5 to 8 people a few days to make many small process improvements rapidly
Think big: set breakthrough goals before such kaizen events and expect double digit-improvements in safety, quality, lead-time, productivity, space and inventory
Act small: ask co-workers and subordinates for ideas
Think big: make the realization of their ideas the best part of your day
There are far more small businesses in the world than big businesses. The largest of organizations are but clusters of smaller, informal groups. We have outsized challenges today that require thinking sized to match them. We can think big, but act quickly no matter how small the good of that act may be. The collective impact of our many small actions has far more impact than the big thinking of the most powerful institutions.
Act small: do what you can do today.
Think big: dream of what you can do with all of your todays

  1. Sandesh Sheth

    October 30, 2008 - 11:44 am

    Small has a negative connotation (emotional association with a word). I feel it would be better if we think in terms of
    “Think global, act local”. This is what I advocate to my customers and colleagues.

  2. David Moles

    October 31, 2008 - 2:45 am

    I think it’s the cognitive dissonance of “small” that makes it work, myself.

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