When the dinosaurs were driven to extinction by cataclysmic changes in their environment, it was only the small species who could adapt, hide, burrow and sustain themselves. They went on to repopulate the earth.
In 1973, English economist E. F. Schumacher published his influential book ‘Small is Beautiful’. He exposed the inefficiency of large enterprises and anticipated the current trend towards sustainable development. He maintained that, “What characterizes modern industry is its enormous consumption to produce so little … It is inefficient to a degree that goes beyond imagination!”
Markets are realising that in times of transformation, small and nimble organisations are the ones who survive and thrive, because of their ability to react and respond to the changing environment.
An inch deep, and a mile wide
Businesses that spread themselves too thin and try to latch on to everything under the sun will not be able to sustain their success over the next decade. Unless you’re Amazon or Google, the focus should be on concentrating on what you know and trying to make your processes more sustainable.
To succeed in the 2020s your company must be flexible, secure, innovative and capable of responding to crises. When a company is spread across multiple sectors and continents and insists on maintaining its size, these things are difficult to accomplish. And your true impact on the world is hard to discern.
For example, a mass corporation will struggle to stay technologically secure. “It is not realistic for many organisations, from banks to accountancy groups, to impose large-scale oversight on staff… For companies that need to put “boots on the ground” — such as G4S, the world’s third largest listed private-sector employer with 618,000 employees on six continents, or Sodexo, with more than 420,000 workers in 80 countries — it may be simply impractical”(Financial times).
Sustainable development is the way of the future. If being big is impractical, inefficient and potentially damaging, what are the benefits of being small?
When you are small you are able to invest fully in the vision for your company. As you grow in size you inevitably have to compromise to meet the demands of partners or consumers. A sustainable business can concentrate time and resources to develop a niche or an expertise in a specific sector. Businesses that set sustainable development goals (SDG’s) will succeed in the 2020s.
When you are small you are able to fine tune your infrastructure and make your business processes more efficient. The report “Better Business, Better World” by the Business & Sustainable Development Commission showed that business models that incorporate sustainable development goals could “open opportunities worth up to $12 trillion and increase employment by up to 380 million jobs by 2030”(Perspectives).
Preparing for the next ten years will require you to focus your enterprise. As we’ve seen in recent times, some of the most successful firms and companies have been able to achieve greatness because they’ve focused on sustainable development.
Small continues to be beautiful because it enables companies to adapt to changes in the market, develop specialisms and become sustainable enterprises.