The Start-Up Spirit: How Thinking Big and Acting Small Builds Winning Companies

May 17, 2016

C12 Group |

Good leaders know that business success boils down to two things: thought and action. Healthy perspective and intentional operation create an environment where people are motivated to contribute, building the kind of culture that is required for a prosperous future.

Interestingly, the best companies possess the strategic skill of large global corporations and the uncommon teamwork and commitment of successful family businesses. This is the premise of Think Big, Act Small: How America’s Best Performing Companies Keep the Start-up Spirit Alive, an enlightening book by Jason Jennings which examines the growth of thousands of companies, both public and private. The most successful companies (those who experienced more than 10% annual growth in revenue and profits over a 10 year period) shared a simple philosophy: think big while acting small.

Jennings’ research also found that companies that think small tend to stay small and those that begin to act big tend to get into trouble. Winning cultures reside in the upper right hand quadrant of this matrix:


Your Own Culture Matrix

As a Christian business owner or CEO, you may have already made the connection between the think big/act small culture and God’s design for your business. But where does your company stand? We’ve boiled down seven key leadership building blocks to help you analyze and build your own matrix. After circling the pair of closest descriptors (e.g, Think Small, Act Big), mark an ‘X’ in the appropriate quadrant for that Key in the scorekeeping matrix below. Repeat this process for all seven keys.


Key 1: Shirt-Sleeve Leadership: Engaged leaders who facilitate team performance

Think Small: Our people are content to “put in their time” but don’t have a reach goal or worthy cause to rally around. They rarely look outside their own area to better understand what others are doing.

Think Big: We feel like one team and keep our big goals in view while tending to daily details. We know that our success and teamwork depends on each of us becoming more knowledgeable about the overall business.


Act Big: Departments rarely share information. Our people shift blame and resist accountability. There’s no easy way to elevate issues or ideas. Leadership is out of touch with our daily challenges and front-line customer issues.

Act Small: We all work together, and with our customers and suppliers, on a basis that promotes shared information and understanding. This keeps unreported problems from festering. People are routinely encouraged and recognized. We cross-train to be more responsive and managers sometimes help out.

Key 2: Short-Term Goals & Long-Term Horizons: Balanced planning and execution

Think Small: People are so focused on hitting monthly or quarterly targets that they play games that hurt the long-term profitability and health of the company.

Think Big: We know that our long-term plans are important, but they can’t be achieved if we don’t execute our daily responsibilities well in serving our customers.


Act Big: People are complacent, believing that the company’s future is secure. They think the business will survive no matter what they do.

Act Small: We know that strategic planning is a dynamic process, since external events can make our plans obsolete. We’re always sharpening our strategy based on new information and executing the small daily steps that will get us there.

You’re on a roll. Download the other five keys now to complete your company assessment.

What does your matrix reveal?

Are you thinking big and acting small? Doing business with this philosophy may not always come naturally, but research shows it’s worth pursuing. Big thinking — a strategic plan, strong understanding of your customers, and relentless pursuit of excellence — can put you on the path to remarkable growth. Acting small — uniting around common values, sharing pain and gain, and practicing servant leadership — will maintain a culture that people want to be a part of today and tomorrow.