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Business Advisor

Book Review: Small Giants

A survey of 14 different companies committed to being the best at what they do.

Small Giants was written by Bo Burlingham, who also co-authored The Great Game of Business and A Stake in the Game with Jack Stack. His point is that, while it’s easy to feel beleaguered as a small-business owner — competing against bigger companies with deeper capital reserves and expert boards of directors and investors — the business is better able to follow the leader’s intuition and to harvest information more quickly and act on it with less need for justification.

Being small is actually an unfair advantage if we learn how to take advantage of it.

When the financial downturn first hit last May, my bank canceled my company’s line of credit (curse them!), but it’s turned out to be a blessing. We tightened our belts, and as things have gotten steadily worse, we’ve been in a position to take advantage of the great employees applying for jobs and have actually grown the business. Small Giants speaks to this issue: The big companies were not able to respond quickly enough to adverse conditions; they could see the writing on the wall but couldn’t move fast enough to gather real-time information and use it to respond with appropriate changes.

I never use highlighter when I read a book, but my hardcover edition of Small Giants is lit up throughout with yellow. It’s well written, encouraging, and optimistic, and left me feeling great about being a small-business owner.

After more than 30 years in this industry, with the last 20 as captain of my own ship, I often joke that I’m just about unemployable and that I only do it to subsidize my tool addiction. The reality is that I love being in business with a great crew of employees, responding to both rough seas and calm, building beautiful homes for appreciative clients. But it’s been a journey getting to this point, and thought-provoking books like this have helped chart the course.


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