Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big

Author: Bo Burlingham
ISBN: 1591840937
Publisher: Portfolio

It’s difficult to spend much time on the ‘net and not come away with the impression that in business small is the new big. Companies like 37 Signals and The Pragmatic Programmers Agile publishing are proving that nimble and smart can make a decent living even in a world inhabited by lumbering behemoths.

While there are numerous examples of challenging the big boys at their own game, a second type of small business is starting to get some coverage. One where the founders and owners want more from life than just a hefty balance sheet.

The author of “Small Giants” presents fourteen companies that, while having different industries, sizes and goals, all have something that makes their employees think of work as more than just a job. He calls it their “Mojo”. The bulk of the book explains the choices taken by the companies, how they reached that point (often something major happened in the owners life), the alternatives they saw and where they’ve tried to aim the company. This is the meat of the book and it’s an enjoyable read.

The interviewees are all very different people and you can’t help but admire their desire to make their companies more than just a office. Community interaction, employee ownership and how to deal with the original visionaries leaving are all covered and the reasons explained. It’s not quite as good as having lunch with the people themselves but it’s about as close as most of us will ever get.

The tone of the book is conversational and informal. Anecdotes and stories are the mainstay here, not business plans or financial justifications. If you’re looking for technical advice on how these companies managed to take the small road then this is the wrong book.

While it’s a good book, there isn’t much more than an evenings reading in it. The material is presented in a easy to follow way and it’s unlikely that you’ll often re-read it or refer to it. This is a triumph of the authors style but isn’t ideal when it comes to bang for buck. If it’s a subject you are already interested in then get it now. If you’re on the fence than either wait for it to come out in paperback or visit your library. 7/10