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Less: The New More

(July 13, 2006) In today's Bugler, we published the tidbits from the first week of the blogswap. If you were to take the time to look at all of the stories, you'd see enormous levels of inconsistency in execution and expectation. If you wanted it to be, it could be understood as a big problem.

The formats vary. The degree of peddling personal services ranges from nearly outrageous to nearly invisible. Responsibilities and manners for the guest writers are completely unclear and range all over the map.

The same is true for the hosts. Some make elaborate introductions (they'd make great toastmasters). Some offer only the slightest acknowledgment. Some editorialize about the content. Others generate puff.

That's what it's like in a startup. The freedom from standardization and procedure is an exhilarating pleasure. It can be that way because the stakes are so low. When things are new and small, the constraints can be minimal because the risks are low. If something goes wrong, it doesn't really matter.

That's why it's cheap to do some things the first time and more expensive as they grow. The conservatism required to prevent failure begins to rule the roost as soon as the deals fall in place. As soon as the blogswap gets real legs, the requirements will be standardized and the vetting processes will be overbearing.

Our friend Jeff Hunter spends a great deal of his time thinking of ways to make entrepreneurial sensibilities work in large organizations. It's an idea that Tom Peters has been peddling for 25 years. It's a good one. We just don't know if it's really possible. Somehow, success breeds conservatism which breeds failure.

Recently, Jeff described the bigness dynamic in a piece called Businesses, Not Departments

Let's abolish the idea of the insular "corporate department." Either what a group of people do adds strategic value or it doesn't. If it doesn't but the work still needs to be done, then it should be outsourced to someone whose whole job revolves around solving customer / client problems in that domain. But even more, when a function is strategic it has to be connected to market feedback. There has to be someone making a buying decision about what your produce. This is critical for HR to understand: HR is a strategic function but tends to believe that it is in a "problem solving" business as opposed to the "value delivery" business. You have to be able to "sell" your solution in order to gauge the value of your approach to the people who will be affected by it.

I see this all the time. HR analyzes a situation and determines that something is wrong. They then create a solution and go put it into operation. Because HR is assessing both the value and effectiveness of their solution, the only ones they really need to convince of their success is themselves. In the meantime, the client is sitting there wondering exactly what is going on. Either the client likes the solution, but was never forced to show just how important it was to them (so they have little long-term commitment or attachment to its success), or they are ticked that "the bureaucrats" have shoved yet another solution down their throat to a problem they didn't even know they had. Neither situation is optimal (or even advisable).

Sadly, big businesses have a really hard time becoming entrepreneurial. Why? Exactly because all of the value is created when things are small and rule free. The bigness is all about protection

If you read the various pieces in the blogswap, you'll find an enormous wealth of diversity and the kind of value that can only come from smallness. Let's hope it stays that way.

John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.
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