Finding strength in empty numbers

Picture courtesy — Mika for Unsplash

All of us tend to trust the established, the big name, the trillion-dollar company, the hotshot entrepreneur, who has got funding by showing an over-enthusiastic and unverified projection. We tend to get bedazzled by fancy designations and management that swoops in the last minute to save the day.

2002, Arthur Andersen was one world’s largest accounting firms. After the Enron scandal came to light, it imploded under the weight of its own callousness.

On the other hand, when the Satyam scandal came to light in 2009, its accounting firm Price Water Cooper got away with paying fines.

These are just two examples of how we tend to overstate the value of size.

No one thought a company the size of Enron was committing fraud and that it would take down with it one of the biggest accounting firms.

It was hard to believe that a company as big as Satyam had falsified its records for so long.

They were all finding strength in empty numbers. They looked and acted big but all the strength and numbers that they projected were hollow, of no real value.

It’s easy to fall for the promise of bigness and the false sense of security that size offers.

Big numbers. Overblown valuations. Oversized companies who throw their weight around and bully everyone. This is the norm.

A few days back, Basecamp, an independent and bootstrapped company ran this ad on Google:

The google ad by Basecamp

It was a David vs Goliath battle that brought a very important point to the forefront — size, and in google's case, monopoly isn’t always good.

All of us tend to trust the established, the big name, the trillion-dollar company, the hotshot entrepreneur, who has got funding by showing an over-enthusiastic and unverified projection. We tend to get bedazzled by fancy designations and management that swoops in the last minute to save the day.

But does all of this really add up to something better in the end?

Shows of strength. Throwing one’s weight around. Intimidating with size. All of these are in many ways the same thing.

We see this play out in many ways:

Big organizations go for a big meeting with a slew of senior executives. It’s easy to fall for this show of strength. ‘Wow, so many seemingly important people working for me. I’m in good hands.’

The Board of Cricket Control of India is the richest cricket board in the world but the Indian cricket team hasn’t won a major competition since 2013. They bully and intimidate other boards and instead of using their wealth and stature to spread the game of cricket, they seem to be more interested in keeping the reach of the game limited to a few countries, lest they lose their kingmaking abilities. The team might have some of the biggest names in world cricket but in the World Cup, they faltered when they came up against New Zealand, a team without as many big names.

Size, or in many cases, oversize, paints a picture of near invincibility and strength that doesn’t really exist.

The local business vs the big retailer.

The independent artist vs the big record company.

The entrepreneur vs a big 5 monolith.

The bootstrapper vs the well-funded.

eing big by itself isn’t a problem though it can lead to problems like sloth, greed, and complacency. The veneer of size hides defects and shows a false sense of strength.

One of the reasons large organizations find it tough to change course is because they have become so enamored by how big they have become. They are scared to take a risk for they fear that everything will come down like a house of cards.

While the fault lines of size are evident, they still give out a false sense of security to many. As the saying goes, the bigger the better.

Sure, there are benefits to size. A bigger bank balance offers you more security if times were to get tough. Most times, a big organization is better poised to ride out a downturn when compared to a small business.

At the same time, big or massive doesn’t say we care more, or we understand you better, or we know what’s best for you. Sometimes, it’s just big without any substance attached to it.

A small team on the cusp of a big idea is infinitely more valuable than an established organization coasting on past success.

One person with a good idea just needs to hone their sales skill to beat a team of highly paid sycophants who are repacking the old and selling it as new.

A small eatery that treats every customer with love and respect can leave a much bigger impact when compared to an impersonal experience in a 5-star hotel.

Working on a small client who trusts you is much better than working on a monolith who treats you like trash, but enables you to pay the EMI for your oversized house.

Size, when used to steer the culture in a positive way, is useful. Strength used to lift others instead of thwarting and belittling efforts, is good.

In an increasingly fragmented world where everyone has access to the same resources, hiding behind the façade of size makes it all the more easy to be found out and cut down to size.

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