The Size of A Business Soul II

For a new perspective on what you’re trying to do with your company, read: Small Giants: Companies That Chose to Be Great Instead of Big by Bo Burlingham.

Most articles about entrepreneurship make a simple and often unexamined assumption: great businesses are naturally turbo-charged growth machines. A whole generation of highly visible entrepreneurs such as Anita Roddick of the Body Shop, Ben and Jerry’s of ice cream, and Yvon Chouinard fueled this tacit equation by using their very loud progressive values as a marketing tool. Their ability to leverage their public profiles into huge and profitable growth created a virtuous cycle, where profits afforded them the luxury of progressive policies and ever ambitious positioning of their personal platforms.

The question is: at what cost? Sure, these companies did great things. For a time. For how long? Hard to say. And for how many? Also a challenge. As Burlingham, a former colleague (and okay, a friend) says of Small Giants, “The book challenges people to think about what makes a great company.” As one of the key writers and editors for Inc. magazine in its heyday, Bo was one of the most important people to elevate the profile of charismatic entrepreneurial companies such as the ones noted above. As he notes, “When a company has charisma you want to be associated with it.”

But today his definition of charisma, soul, of, for lack of a better word, “it,” has evolved. Burlingham now focuses on great companies whose spirit is defined by different measures. For this book, he wrote about exemplary companies whose founder or founding team rejected growth for growth’s sake so as to maintain control over what they considered more important factors: quality of company, ties to community, quality of jobs, and sense of purpose. “What sets the companies apart is the extent to which the higher purpose is woven into the fabric of the business. It has to be a constant presence, a part of the everyday life of the company, that people never lose sight of, as so happens with mission statements.”

While this type of statement sounds hopelessly and almost unattainably aspirational, one of the joys of this book is the way that Bo details precisely how real companies have made the real choices to live by such a daunting purpose. You will recognize companies like Zingerman’s Deli; others will be fresh to you. Bo has gotten some nice coverage of his book, and his excellent website has myriad links and nice excerpts. Go, buy, discuss.

Posted by tom at May 31, 2006 11:05 AM
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Book cover



Read or print the Intro and Chapter 1 .

Read some book reviews at Inc, 1-800-CEO-READ, and the Miami Herald.

Read the publisher's press release.

Visit the companies that Tom discusses in the book

Hear a recent lecture by Tom on the Startup Garden


Read about other books and web sites about starting your own business.


Just Managing – articles that Tom wrote for The Industry Standard and some Business Articles written for Inc., Fortune Small Business, Harvard Management Update, and other places.



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