Book Summary: Small Giants

by Bo BurlinghamAs you may recall from my post on the importance of being a great place to work, I’m a big fan of the book, “Small Giants.” I like to try to summarize the books I really enjoy so that I can better apply their lessons, and I’d like to pass them on to you. Of course, what I hope is that this taste will whet your appetite for reading the entire book. It is well worth it, and may change the way you think about your business and career.What are the common characteristics of companies that have the “mojo”1) The leaders question the usual definitions of success in business and imagine other possibilities 2) The leaders build the kind of business they want to live in, rather than accommodating themselves to outside forces3) The companies have an extraordinarily intimate relationship with their locations4) The companies cultivate exceptionally intimate relationships with customers and suppliers, based on personal contact, 1:1 interaction, and mutual commitment to delivering on promises. The effect is a sense of community and common purpose between companies, their suppliers, and their customers5) The companies have unusually intimate workplaces. “They were in effect functional little societies that strove to address a broad range of their employees’ needs as human beings–creative, emotional, spiritual, and social needs as well as economic ones.”6) The companies may have unique corporate structures and modes of governance7) The leaders bring passion to whatever the company does. “They had deep emotional attachments to the business, to the people who worked in it, and to its customers and suppliers–the sort of feelings that are the bane of professional management.”

What is the essence of “mojo”?The leaders are very clear about what life has to offer at its best–exciting challenges, camaraderie, compassion, hope, intimacy, community, a sense of purpose, feelings of accomplishment–and they have organized their businesses so that they and the people they work with can get it.When outsiders come into contact with such a business, they can’t help but feel the attraction. The company is cool because what’s going on inside is good, fun, interesting, something you want to be associated with. “Mojo is more or less the business equivalent of charisma….Companies with mojo have a quality that makes people want to be a part of them.”Every founder/leader has a passion for what their companies do. They love it, and have a burning desire to share it with other people. They thrive on the joy of contributing something great and unique to the world.Small giants focus on the relationships that the company has with its various constituencies–employees, customers, community, and suppliers. The relationships are rewarding in and of themselves, but their strength also reveals the degree to which people are inspired by the company, and its ability to inspire them is the best measure of how they perceive the value of what the company does. Norm Brodsky: “When most people visit my company and look around one of my warehouses, all they see are boxes. They see hundreds of thousands of boxes neatly arranged on shelves that rise up to the ceiling, almost 56 feet high. But when I look around that warehouse, I se something different. I see a fabulous business that my employees and I have built from scratch. You walk into my place and all you can smell is cardboard. I love it. That smell gets my juices flowing. I think you need to feel in your gut that whatever you do is the most interesting, exciting, worthwhile thing you could be doing at that moment. Otherwise, how could you convince anyone else? If I thought storing boxes on shelves was boring, I never would have been able to attract the great people I work with, and we wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what we’ve done.”

3 thoughts on “Book Summary: Small Giants

  1. That’s great. Just curious: Which companies have you encountered recently that seem to be brimming over with mojo?

  2. How do you apply “A great place to work” to virtual work environments? With more telecommuting, or even entirely virtual teams (Socialtext, e.g.), articles adn books about “the workplace” seem to tread an interesting line.

  3. Seamus:

    A couple of companies come to mind. My friends over at PBWiki have a great time and a great product. Of course, they are a three person team, which makes things much easier.

    My friend Matt also runs a division of a boutique research firm, Celent, and every one of his employees that I’ve talked with claims its the best job they’ve ever had.

    Great companies are out there–they just may not have glossy magazine profiles to announce their presence.

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