Editorial: This post was originally written back in 2018 shortly after the 2018 World Cup in Russia. In watching that years competition closely there was to me an interesting connection between the notion of big business as the pinnacle of our current economic model, and the ubiquity within football for players to focus on, or ‘build’ for size and strength. The notion that “bigger is better” is to me still a persistent idea, one that often overshadows the qualities and potential of the small; and of other ways of being — that often the smaller, more agile, more unassuming can do much that the big cannot.
With the last Rugby World Cup as a more recent reference point and Rugby itself a more team-focused sport, the musings presented feel more about a sense of place, and balance — like an ecosystem, with key parts to play for both big and the small. And where the make-up of this ecosystem need only shift to better suit the changing landscape of business and work.
Much today, be it big business, government, technology, our approach to city planning and even our underlying thoughts about how we should live are influenced still by the ideas and objectives of globalisation. The allure of the ‘big’ still holds great sway, as multi-internationals influence governments, and shape the landscape of business, economy and even culture.
Yet, we are coming to realise more and more that the notion of big business does not fit, or perhaps no longer benefits the world in which we live. More and more too, we see the ‘small' able make up for the shortcomings of the big. Able to take advantage, to fill the cracks and to fulfil the needs left by the slow and the outdated. A trend that may even become essential as we move toward a future of automation and AI.
But still, the ideal of the ‘big’, left over from our industrial past, persists.
Strangely then, while watching the World Cup in July it was easy to see the place and power of the small, amidst a ubiquity of the big. A fable for much of the nature of size itself.
Stand out players from this year’s tournament (such as Kylian Mbappé) have proven (in the context of competitive sport at least) the capacity for the smaller, faster and more agile to far outdo the more common reliance on physical strength. Those able to utilise an exceptional, natural capability for speed and agility that have been standing out.
Not just in football though, we see speed and agility succeed, not by trying to match or outdo the big, but instead through an inherent ability to outpace, out-manoeuvre, react, respond and gain advantage - exploiting innate strengths and others' weaknesses. It is apparent in nature too; with the many varied niche's and the varied, yet repeating forms of animals we see in the world.
In the natural world big-ness can be characterised by bulk, and with it strength, but it is also restricted by it, slow to manoeuvre and adapt.
Where size pronounces and asserts itself, agility is less visible; unassuming, able to surprise, change and reposition – to be manoeuvrable, flexible and fluid. It's strengths facing inwardly rather than out.
In the landscape of business: big, in its established forms, remains predictable, obvious, rigid, and unadaptable. The notion of "bigger=better" remains as a prevailing ideal, but the small and agile is still I feel, largely overlooked, undervalued and underestimated. Though perhaps to it's benefit.
There will, I think, always be a need for some big, but so too will there be more and more room for discovering how ‘small’ can exploit it's unoccupied spaces – and reach the places ‘big’ cannot. As our values begin to change and shift, along with our changing world, and as people begin to awaken to more meaningful values, this sense of what is fit for purpose will likely change too.