16 Aug 2010
These days, I’m pretty immersed in the world of small companies for one reason: I have been interviewing the owners of small businesses for my new book. Quite frankly, I have been blown away by many things, not the least is which the ability of these companies to effectively manage their data. In this post, I’ll explore the small and big worlds of information management )IM).
The World of Big
I have spent many years in this world, so I feel like an expert commenting on it. If you’re reading this post, then you’re probably familiar with it and its characteristics:
- Big Companies
- Oodles of employees
- Politics galore
- Big Tools (typically older)
- Big Data (often inconsistent, incomplete, or at at least partially invalid)
- Big Systems (note: always plural)
- Big Problems
In what appears to be Bizarro World, I have spent much time lately in The World of Small. Even the project that I am finishing next week involves a company with “only” an 800 employees. At least to me, this is relatively small. This is especially true since I’ve done time in organizations with more than 60,000 employees. (Well, at least we thought that that number was right.) Our systems were more than a little messy and we could never be sure. Calm blue oceans, Phil…
The World of Small
The characteristics of this other, strange wold include:
- Small Companies
- Fewer employees (by an order of magnitude)
- Smaller Tools (typically newer)
- Smaller Data
- Smaller Systems or, heaven forbid, system (singular)
- Smaller Problems
Now what happens when those people used to one world enter the other? Worlds collide. (In “The Pool Guy”, one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes, we are introduced to George’s “Worlds Theory.” Long story short: friends and relationships don’t mix.)
When those used to working in small worlds enter big ones, they often become frustrated. The simple ability to query relatively accurate data sets gives way to much more nuanced (read: complicated) situations. Relatively simple questions are answered with complex or convoluted answers such as:
- “not really”
- “you’d think so, but…”
- “it depends”
I suspect that this is why many highly talented folks leave big companies for small ones, never wanting to return.
On the other hand, those that go from big worlds to small ones seem to feel a sense of immediate relief. They’re surprised with statements such as, “If it’s not in Salesforce.com, then it doesn’t exist.” How’s that for an IM philosophy? Or how about being able to write accurate reports via a web-based wizard that pull results in 30 seconds?
Yep. It’s a strange world.
Most companies lay somewhere in between these two poles. What’s more, to be fair, small companies have their own issues and it’s the acme of foolishness for me to claim that these environments are idyllic. To quote Stephen A. Smith, However….
On many levels, there’s something to be said for simple setups, consistent data, quick decision making, clear lines of responsibility, and generally better data. Even if The Big World can’t turn on a dime, shouldn’t its leaders try to emulate its smaller counterpart?
What say you?