Wednesday, August 12, 2009



“If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way,” said Napoleon Hill. This got me thinking about the significance of “small.” It’s the “small things” that have been changing and influencing our lives. Back in the 1960’s everyone was making big long cars. Doyle Dane Bernbach was hired by this company to create a campaign to promote an ugly looking car. It took a small headline to shake up the whole automobile market and changed all the existing rules of advertising forever. The headline read “Think Small”. Bernbach’s “Think Small” advertisement for the Beetle car was actually an exercise in thinking big. This ad catapulted the Beetle into fame and sales of the car (which no one gave much chance to succeed) actually broke all records and expectations. Not surprising then that in the list of the top 100 advertising campaigns, Volkswagen stands tall at the very top with its “Think Small” campaign that Bernbach created in 1959.

In fact, it was the “big” that drove Detroit into a ditch. GM, Ford and Chrysler had been America’s symbol of economic might and prosperity. They totally ignored the small and concentrated on big cars only. But it was the small and fuel efficient cars of Japan that helped them capture the US car market. In August 2008, the American car industry saw a drop in sales by 11%. Japanese carmaker Honda, on the other hand, out performed the sliding US auto industry with its US sales up by 1.2%. In 2007, Americans bought 55 light trucks for every 45 passenger cars. In July 2008, the ratio inverted and so did the fortunes of car companies. It’s the ones who focused on “small” that survived.

Toyota was another company that grew in an unprecedented manner and dominated the global car-market. Its hybrid car model, Prius became a best seller. But today, all is not well at Toyota City in Japan. The company has been hit badly by the slowdown. All eyes are focused on Akio Toyoda, the grandson of Toyota’s founder Sakichi Toyoda. In his first press conference ever, he said that the company had over extended itself in an effort to make big cars for the American market, forgetting completely that it was “small” which was responsible for its success. It’s time the company went back-to-basics and revamped its strategy, he said. Toyota City wanted to become like the Detroit of America – with car sales plummeting and unemployment increasing, the city is scarily coming close to fulfilling its dream.

It’s time to turn to “small” to survive. For that’s the way Ford has been able to survive. It’s the only US automaker that has not filed for bankruptcy because among other things, the first thing it did was sell off its big nonprofit table cars Jaguar and Land Rover to Ratan Tata. Alan R. Mulally, Ford’s CEO knew that the future was “small” and with this sale, Ford secured its future. In July, its sales rose 2.3% from last year, thanks to the increase in demand for small, fuel-efficient cars! The news made Ford the first among the major American carmakers to report a sales increase in the US this year. Small creates big impact – remember the atom bomb and how it altered Japanese and world history forever.


“Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies,” believed Mother Teresa. It is this faith that led this company to raise millions of dollars annually for children around the world. Since 1991, this small idea has helped this company raise over $70 million. Yes, it’s the UNICEF’s “Change for Good” campaign that was started with a simple premise that people who travel and have left over foreign coins or notes would probably never use them again. This way UNICEF found a way to turn this normally wasted money into millions of dollars for helping the underprivileged children. All that travelers were required to do was to give their spare coins in an envelope to an in-flight personnel on their way back home. Flights distributed promotional materials showing celebrities supporting UNICEF in this initiative. Till today, this small idea of small change continues to work, making it one of the world’s best known CRM campaigns.

More than charisma, it was a steady flow of funds that was responsible for Barack Obama’s victory. He used the Internet to raise money like no one could ever imagine. He turned his campaign website into a 24 hour deposit box that filled up slowly but steadily as “small” donation trickled in. He raised half a billion dollars online with 90% of the transactions coming from people who donated $100 or less, while 40% came from donors who gave $25 or less. No other campaign in the world has managed to create an impact as big as this one.

It was Muhammad Yunus’ “microfinance” and small loans to poor farmers that helped fuel his big dream of changing the fate of the poor and perhaps someday make poverty history. In 1975, he realised that by giving a mere $27 he could change the lives of 42 people of a village. He started the Grameen Bank that gave small loans to the “poor-uncredit-worthy” and changed the fortunes of one village after the next. He and his bank today have loaned more than $100 million and changed the lives of thousands forever. As the artist Van Gogh said “great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”


This man started a trend of sorts at Harvard. Everybody now wanted to find an idea and drop out of Harvard. Marck Zuckerberg founded Facebook while he was studying at Harvard in 2004. He never knew that a small university project could cause such an explosion and ‘blow away’ every youngster’s mind on this planet.

Many big businesses started as “small” projects. Bill Gates did it in the 1970’s; Sergy Brin and Larry Page started Google as a project in Stanford; Yahoo and Cisco System too were Stanford projects. Seeing the potential of “small” beginnings, in 2007 Harvard discarded its ancient rule of prohibiting students from running companies from their dorm rooms. If you know where you are going it is of no significance how small your start is. As Fidel Castro said, “I began a revolution with 82 men. If I had to do it again, I’d do it with 10 or 15 and absolute faith. It does not matter how small you are if you have faith and a plan of action.”

It started with a $5,000 loan, that helped him lease a garage and a copy machine. Today Paul Orfalea has converted it into a business we all know as Kinkos – with more than a thousand business centres worldwide.

A piece of paper, pencil, some imagination and a small loan of $500 was how this company started. Walt Disney, inventor of Mickey Mouse, built a huge empire that today is one of best and oldest standing companies in the world. Don’t forget, it all started with a mouse.


Wal-Mart started in a small town in Arkansas in 1962. It was this novel idea of opening a department store in a small town, when everybody else was rushing to open shop in the big cities, which led to the tremendous growth of this retail giant. Big cities were crowded, expensive, had tougher competition and were running out of good real estate options.

In contrast, small towns had none of the above problems, besides also having consumers that were delighted to find someone who cared enough to open a departmental store in their otherwise boring town, and especially one that was comparable to stores in bigger cities.


It was Chik shampoo that first introduced India to sachets in the 1980s. Earlier shampoos were available in large bottles. A change in packaging increased the market size dramatically. It worked especially well in the rural market – a market that is growing faster than the urban one. Every multinational that wants to grow is repackaging its goods into smaller units. If Colgate has its toothpowder in a 10gm sachet, sugar is now even available in a Rs.2 pouch, jam in a 10gm sachet and just 2 slices of bread are now sold in a single pack. Marketing them in small sizes, increased their market.

The magic of small was understood best by Estee Lauder. She did not have a huge advertising budget usually required to sell cosmetics. So she decided to package her cosmetic items into small size packs and distribute them as gifts to potential consumers. Not only did she manage to capture a huge market share, but also started a totally new trend in marketing.

Try sleeping with a mosquito and you will never underestimate the power of small things and the big differences they make. Napoleon was the greatest French Emperor and he was short. Kylie Minouge is not too tall either, but has done the biggest music counters. And it is not the big, but the small screen that worked wonder for Ekta Kapoor and her saas- bahu serials.

Frustrated by the high cost of film production, some Nigerian filmmakers turned to making home videos taking advantage of the affordable digital filming and editing technologies. Suddenly, movie making became affordable. Today, all films are produced using digital video technology. Colloquially known as Nollywood, Nigeria’s film industry is the second largest film industry in the world in terms of number of films produced per year. They churn out 200 videos for the home video market every month!

Small things do great things. A small leak can sink a ship, a small invention like the TV remote can change life forever. When phones shrank to mobiles and skirts shrank to minis, many swore that the world became a better place to live in. So if you want to go far and make it big, master the small first.

Forty years ago, on 20th July, humankind landed on the moon. It was Neil Armstrong’s one small step that changed the world. A journey, however long, starts with a single small step. Don’t undermine the power of small. And to really succeed, become the god of small things.


  1. Hi, I am totally agree with you, But there are so many things behind small. Like, thinking of people, standers of education, life style of people, awareness and market correction you can say recession. I will tell you latter about all headings.
    Always you have a nice blog, regularly i read your blog. Great Keep it up!!!!

  2. Even nanotechnology deals with the small things.

    Nono particles are set to make surgery more inclusive and decentralised.

    Small PDA's make our Business and daily lives full of convenience and opportunities tapped at right times.

    Children are more sensitive and moralistic than adults.

  3. Nice post. It is always good to see people expressing themselves in different ways.

    Since you seem to be associated with Management, I would like to suggest you a new magazine - PEOPLE MATTERS started by an ISB Alumni, which was suggested to me by a friend and which I have found very useful.

    It deals with various important aspects of management, especially those related to Leadership & People Management, which the mainstream business publications often ignore.

    It's also relatively cheap. I guess its annual subscription is about Rs. 400 (US$ 8 approx) which is even less than the cost of a standard Pizza.

    Their last issue had an enlightening article by Robert Kaplan (the co-founder of Balanced Scorecard method, if you remember) where he talks about how organisations can create opportunities out of current economic downturn.

    I got its subscription online through their website:

    If you like the magazine, kindly refer it to your friends or colleagues in the organization you work. They may be interested in subscribing to it.


  4. well said mam but i m nt totally agree with u..small things cnt be big in every case...
    there r soo many business start in india..and shut in next day..
    if anyone gng to invest small money in mutual funds and other and securities ..thn hw he can expect for large return...
    small things can be successive through luck,creativity,failure,r8 decision at r8 time,nature,..etc .

    yr iipm student..

  5. Absolutely Right Mam.....

    with Regards,
    IIPM,New Delhi


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