As another year closes, the noise increases.

  • Think big
  • Dream big
  • Buy big
  • Do big

At times, we seem to be in a big competitive race.

  • If our name or brand isn’t big enough, then we have failed.
  • If our goals aren’t big enough, then we don’t fit in with the “big” people.
  • If our readership isn’t big enough, then we are just a sideshow.
  • If our companies didn’t grow fast enough or become big enough, then who can we buy to demonstrate big growth or bold moves.

We get caught into comparisons and competitiveness. Some publish big numbers about readership of their blogs, yet they don’t include a timeframe for the numbers. Is it five months or five or fifteen years? Either way, it doesn’t matter. Publishing numbers is an exercise to feel important or demonstrate some sense of bigness.

Stop trying to be big.

We need to stop trying to be so big. Instead, we need to focus on having a better impact in our circle of influence. Our circle of influence includes our family, friends, community, organization, and stakeholders. This list is probably in the order of priority with the last three being equal in importance.

Momentum of bigness.

The momentum of big hits all sectors and areas. Just look at the recent announcement of CVS Health agreeing to buy Aetna, a $69 billion deal. Big is done with the notion of “transformation” or some other engrossing idea.

Consumer debt climbs because we want a lot of stuff. In September 2017, consumer debt stood at over $3 trillion. Go back to January 1985; it stood at near $524 million. A substantial jump.

Individuals pursue big pay packages and titles. Look at CEO pay. “While the 2016 CEO-to-worker compensation ratio of 271-to-1 is down from 299-to-1 in 2014 and 286-to-1 in 2015, it is still light years beyond the 20-to-1 ratio in 1965 and the 59-to-1 ratio in 1989.”

Struggling with bigness.

I am no different. As I look back on my career, I think about whether I could have done bigger things.

  • Could I have had bigger titles and done bigger things for bigger companies?
  • Did I miss opportunities to do bigger things?

The more cutting question: “Did I get distracted by trying to be bigger that I missed opportunities for lasting impact?”

Growing up on a farm in South Dakota, I didn’t start big. We were a small family farm. Small family farms don’t really exist anymore, not like when I was a kid. Tractors and equipment are bigger and more expensive, so farmers need more land to buy and rent to make the business formula work.

Although I didn’t start big, I dreamed big. I wanted to have a big name, a big impact, and big result. Fifty years later, I struggle with whether I did “big” big enough. The truth is I did not. Now, in the last third of my life, I think about whether now is the time to do “big” bigger or is it time to do small in a meaningful way.

The downside of bigness.

Individuals get caught up in bigness. Bernie Madoff wanted big investments to support a big lifestyle. With all the repulsive sexual harassment situations coming to light, individuals and organizations get hurt when some think their bigness of ego and stature means they can demean others.

Companies get into trouble, too, when they lose their way through acquisitions and short-term actions to try to grow faster. In a study of corporate mergers and acquisitions, more than 60% of them destroy shareholder value. Destroying shareholder value wasn’t the original goal; getting bigger was.

Time to narrow focus and act meaningfully.

It is counterintuitive, yet we need to think small. Thinking and acting small does not mean avoiding diversity. Small does not mean big things don’t happen. Our thoughts and actions shift to an intense focus and better alignment to purpose and respect.

too bigNarrow focus.

If you want to explore big success, you sense a factor of focus. Watch Becoming Warren Buffet, and you understand his consistent focus on value investing that paid off in what he delivered and how he treated others. Watch Forks Over Knives, and you understand how the focus of Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn Jr. and Dr. John McDougall led to becoming experts and leading meaningful and healthy change.

Our answers don’t lie in the movies but in the stories of others. Successful individuals and companies with a narrow focus can lead to big results. A certain drive exists, but care is taken in ensuring the shift to the next gear is not done too soon or for the wrong reasons.

Impact can happen incrementally in new areas of innovation when we have a clarity and discipline of focus.

Act meaningfully.

Within intense focus of thought, research, and actions, we add in meaning and purpose. We get lost in what success means. Is it money and fame, or is it respectful and purposeful impact? Too often, we focus on the first two at the expense of the latter two. We need to swap the two.

When we act with respect and purposeful impact in a focused area, we can still gain the money and fame. However, when we make this switch, we realize money and fame are not as important as we originally thought. It is just added sweetness if it happens, like icing on a cake.

We need to melt self-importance and self-centeredness. Both get us off track. We need to focus on a defined area of impact and act with thoughtful meaning of what our work can do. Over time, our influence and results grow in the right areas and at the right pace.

Shift from bigness. Now.

We don’t need growth at all costs.

We don’t need success at the cost of our family.

We don’t need power at the expense of others.

We need to shift from bigness to thinking smaller and acting in measured ways in pursuit of meaning and purpose. Your grandmother may have told you once that you were too big for your britches, and today she would be more right than ever before. Unfortunately, too many put on their big britches and then proceeded to fill them with bad character, inappropriate actions, false profits, and costly pretentiousness.

We need to shift to a size that has meaning at the present moment and then build upon it. In many ways, this is minimalist leadership at its’ best. Minimalist leaders cut the clutter of what doesn’t matter and focus on the limited elements that build a consequential legacy – now and in the future.

For the months and years ahead, I know my focus will shift to smallness in a big, positive way. How about you?


Feature Photo by Jon Mertz, ©2017, All Rights Reserved. Photo is taken in Monument Valley.
Article Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash


Is being too big getting us in trouble and off track? Being big leads to focusing on the wrong things. It is time to narrow focus and act with meaning.