Years ago I read Small is Beautiful by E.F. Schumacher and since then my awareness of the connection between smallness and long-term sustainability keeps growing.
Smallness means nimbleness, fleetness and responsiveness. Smallness means niche, individual meaning, simplicity of design and creative space, especially if the small business or organization is intentionally organized that way. Think hummingbird, field gecko or sardine in comparison to an elephant, dinosaur or blue whale. Small animals might be fragile, but they can rapidly flit on to new things and have little difficulty breeding. They can survive, even thrive, on fewer resources. Small organizations have many of these same advantages.
Yet western culture remains enamored with bigness, not just in business, but in ministry organizations too. Do you reach a lot of people? You must be fundamentally better and more interesting than small organizations with deep and abiding relationships among those they serve. Did your organization grow rapidly? You are granted instant celebrity status, even if that growth is inefficient, unstable and short-lived.
So many of the organizations that keep on going and going are small, constantly remaking themselves but never becoming all that large, while organizations that are large tend to disappear as rapidly as they appear. An example: the first congregation I served reached its centennial a few years back, still pretty much the same size after all these years, while two of the largest congregations in that same town, built around a celebrity pastor or a novel approach to ministry programming, no longer exist. Which is the best measure of success in such a comparison--being large and flaming out or living long and being relatively uninteresting?
Writing prior to our too big to fail approach to managing an economy, Schumacher pointed out that large organizations that succeed tend to break down into many small business units instead of large and unwieldy divisions. Growth in such a case is managed by radiating outward to produce new resources instead of soaking up resources so that they are not available to competitors. Small units within larger organizations promote entrepreneurship, creativity, and personal ownership for the success of the enterprise.
We built Design Group International on this orientation. We are not much interested in our total billings each year as long as our bills are paid while completing challenging work. We are not concerned about being larger than other organizational development firms. Rather, we care about being able to serve organizations small and large. We are not measuring success by revenue growth but by length of organizational life and our ability to successfully transition our firm to the ownership and stewardship of others.
And . . . .if the business model does not hold up we won't have destroyed anyone or anything. We will live to see another day.