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Of Big Ideas and Small Companies

small_121183967I recently read an interesting article at CIO.com, “Why CIOs Should Mentor Startups“. The article pushes CIOs to remain engaged in startups to the benefit of the CIO as much as to the startup. CIOs, executives, and even business owners, tend to get tunnel-vision very quickly. A CIO focuses on the financial and strategic efficiency of their IT units, and often that means hyper-focusing on technology and processes that have been implemented but can be optimized further. That’s correct behavior–but only if it’s just part of the overall management strategy.

As the CEO of Puryear IT, where we provide IT support, and as a virtual CIO for several of our larger customers, I’ve found that hyper-focusing on making things “better” often means I ignore things that can replace instead of optimize what I have.

This can be a serious problem.

Is it better to optimize a slow process so that it is 25% or even 50% faster? Or should I take a step back and decide to rip and replace the entire process altogether? The answer isn’t always simple, but focusing on only improving processes does certainly lead you down the “let’s get 2.3437% more efficiency out of this widget” trap, and that’s a big problem.

I wonder if small companies that are successful too often fall into the trap of ignoring big ideas–and, admittedly, the associated big risks–because what we have works well enough. Until a competitor comes by with a process that is 3.5% more efficient and causes us pain, that is.

Of course, big “evil” companies are typically the poster child for this. We’re told they get bogged down in paperwork and bureaucracy, and that’s true to some extent, but big companies also have a lot more brains working for them than small companies. More people equals more viewpoints and if a big company has even a minor culture of listening to new ideas, that’s a huge win for them in the long run.

In smaller companies, business owners and executives must have an even more open mind to their own ideas and the ideas of employees because we are, arguably, exposed to big ideas less often; fortunately, by being small, once we do get exposed, we’re able to turn on a dime much faster. So there are certainly pros and cons to the different hierarchical sizes of various types of companies.

(And, people may very well disagree that small companies are exposed to big ideas less often. I’d love to hear from you. But let’s keep in mind that being exposed to a big idea doesn’t mean you recognize that exposure.)

This post is something of a ramble, but that’s the idea: There is no perfect solution to the problem of ensuring your small company is constantly being exposed to big ideas. But at least knowing that there is risk in keeping your head buried in the sand while you work through your accounting, or your marketing campaign, or optimizing some internal process by 5% can lead to you missing the Big Idea that could really catalyze your company and staff into doing equally big things.

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