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    Food for thought

    « Thinking small | Main | What small ideas look like »

    May 17, 2011


    Bud Caddell

    As always, excellent stuff.

    The environment (markets and culture) makes incremental changes, companies should keep in-step by making small incremental bets themselves. The goal is co-evolution. But firms tend to drop out, do nothing, and then want to take one giant leap into modernity and often times they just find themselves jumping into swimming pools with no water.

    I'd still say though, if you're a giant company, there are ways to exploit that size, amazing distribution systems, ad budgets bigger than the GDPs of most developing countries, etc.

    When it comes to behavioral economics, the lesson there is to think holistically, be obsessed with the full system, so that you can identify enough leverage points to design tiny creative solutions around. Changing the default option is a great way to start, but if you don't address a wider picture, people will end up draining their 401ks before they hit retirement.

    Larry Corwin

    When it comes to brands, small is also accessible and ownable. As brands more frequently talk ‘with’ rather than ‘to’ consumers, feeling small becomes important in the authenticity – or perceived authenticity – of that communication. It gives people the feeling that what they have to say actually matters, and won’t get drowned out (this can also be applied to customer service.) Similarly, consumers will only feel as if they’re part owners of a brand if the brand feels small and accessible enough to actually be owned.

    edward boches

    Great curating of multiple sources to make some very good points. We (some of us) argue this stuff all the time in an effort to prevent the big idea from always being the default. For some, however, it's too much work to iterate and keep on going. They like the idea they can execute and walk away from. Too bad for them, as soon they'll be the ones left behind.


    Sometimes clients struggle to buy small ideas even though their impact could be huge. I've seen this happen. It's easier to get excited by a 'big' idea and get others excited, internally. That makes it very important to get good at explaining the big effect of small ideas.

    My small contribution to this big subject ;)

    Richard Santiago

    Super super post from a BIG brain. Thank you. Incremental incentives to nudge behavior, invisibility, elegant disruption and local acts are essential - strategizing and building a cultural mindset around SMALL as big goals is the rub. A way to nudge clients/partners/internal resources to rally around this would be a logical follow up. And then the measurement of "small fires" can help sell the idea through to clients, particularly embattled CMOs under the gun for results. Important important stuff, thank you for taking it on. Big proponent. Thanks again.

    Phil Adams

    I'm undecided on this big idea / small idea distinction you're making.

    I understand the rationale but I'm uncomfortable with the nomenclature.

    We're all in the business of capturing people's imagination. And some ideas do that better than others. But I think it's the structure of the idea rather than its size that determines its potential to move people.

    It's a consistent fault of traditional ad agencies that their ideas are too finished, polished and boxed off. There's nothing left for people to play or conjur with.

    The best modern ideas are like the box that the toy comes in. The box that the kid would much rather play with because it allows him/her to use his/her imagination.

    IRN-BRU (Scottish equivalent of Coke) ran a cheeky campaign last summer to coincide with The World Cup. The people of Scotland are resigned to the fact that their team rarely qualifies for the final stages, and that they have no chance of ever winning it.

    But last year IRN-BRU launched an idea called Bruzil.

    What if, by mating with consenting Brazilians, we could breed a world beating team for the 2034 World Cup that combined Scottish grit with Brazilian flare?

    That to me is a "big" idea.

    But it is also an open, participative, imagination-capturing cardboard box of an idea. The results prove it.

    We should be making cardboard boxes rather than toys.


    Great comment and I don't think we disagree. Small vs big is about structure more than size (see the next post); small ideas are different in structure and, more importantly, tend to create long rather than big ideas.

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    I'd still say though, if you're a giant company, there are ways to exploit that size, amazing distribution systems, ad budgets bigger than the GDPs of most developing countries, etc.


    Great post Gareth,

    made me re-watch Rory's sweat the small stuff talk again.

    Tom Whitney

    Love your thinking and the discussion here! Thank you for doing this blog, we need more challenging thinking like this in the branding world.

    Is the real question big vs. small? Ask an inmate doing time in solitary confinement what two things every human being wants, and he would say neither to be small, nor big, but to be together with others, and in that togetherness to be perfectly free. Intimacy plus freedom. We don't want to be lone wolves or a pack of caged wolves.

    In evaluating ideas for big versus small thinking, we may misalign our thinking with what people truly want—the complimentarity of togetherness plus freedom. It's not one side versus the other, we want togetherness and freedom at the same time.

    Togetherness means close, but it doesn't mean small. A work team united by deep core values, even though they are spread around the world, can feel close. Twelve people jammed into a small elevator can feel completely distant if they share no common purpose or vision.

    This type of unifying order—togetherness plus expansiveness—is reflected in the big idea. It unites many ideas together as one, while giving them limitless legs for extension. Internally and externally unobstructed (resistance free) as the Buddha described Nirvana.

    This is nonduality, as it's known in Eastern spiritual tradition, in which the whole and the part exist in seamless, resistance-free integration as one. A big idea is a nondualistic construction, so is the Internet with its many-as-one united Web sites.

    The more pure, transparent, elegant and benevolent the unifying vision, the more easily the part wears the leash of the whole, feeling intimate closeness plus limitless extension—the two causal factors driving the runaway success of the Internet.

    Nonduality delivers that perfect intimacy, which I think you're after in the idea of smallness, plus the radically expansive freedom we want—to feel limitless. I believe nonduality is the true theoretical foundation of branding and organizational development.

    More coming on nondual branding on my

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