Being BIG vs. Thinking Different


The tech world is littered with tales of cage matches between perceived underdogs and huge overdogs, the latter of whom don’t realize at the time that they’re even in a cage match. (Oftentimes, they’re still gradually figuring it out to this day… until, even, their dying day.)

That’s one of at least 1,000 deep insights buried in the Walter Isaacson bio of Steve Jobs.

“You know Steve, he has his own agenda,” Sony’s CEO Nobuyuki Idei explained to Red Herring editor Tony Perkins. “Although he is a genius, he doesn’t share everything with you. This is a difficult person to work with if you are a big company… It is a nightmare.”

In the ten years since Sony’s CEO made that statement, Sony’s stock has dropped 70% in value (while, admirably, paying a consistent dividend). Over that same period of time, Apple has become the most valuable company in the world. Apple’s stock price increased 9,751% over that same period.

Who’s the big company now? Why did Sony assume that Apple wasn’t one? And that you could talk about “Steve” so dismissively? Did Sony feel threatened yet dismissive all at the same time? (By market capitalization, today Apple is 50X Sony’s size.)

You’ll notice a consistent tone in such bigger-company bully talk. “We’re a big company” style big companies have a habit of “big companying” themselves into the ground. Even when obviously threatened by change, they cling to dismissive, supercilious language — as if size alone is a built-in advantage, as if their market is a constant.

It’s a competitive landscape and there is no “end point,” so naturally upstarts maniacally focused on execution often trump those who’ve lapsed into “being big.”

“Being big” is something you do in the passive voice and the present (soon to be past) tense. The prickly upstarts so often speak in the active voice, about future outcomes.

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