~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Although there are literally thousands of business books published each year, only a selected few are destined to become "best sellers".
The list of best-selling books used to be updated on a weekly basis,
usually in respected periodicals such as the New York Times. Today, however, this list is updated hourly by mega book retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Therefore the claim of "best seller" might mean that a particular book was highly ranked for only a very short amount of time (like 4 hours)...whereas true "best-sellers", might actually have sustained sales for weeks, years or even decades.
The undisputed best-selling business book of all-time is Napoleon Hill"s, Think and Grow Rich, originally published in 1936 with a reported 70 million copies sold.
Best-sellers with multiple year runs include books such as Who Moved My Cheese, The 7 Habits of Effective People, In search of Excellence, Essential Peter Drucker, and Rich Dad, Poor Dad.
Two of the most popular business books in the past 25 years were written by Jim Collins
, Built to Last
(1994) and Good to Great
In both of these books, Jim Collins and his Stanford University research team aggregated thousands of data points in an attempt to locate specific reasons why some very large public companies outperformed their peer companies in terms of stock price and shareholder returns over a very long time (40 years or longer).
Collins and his team found several contributing factors as to why they believed certain behaviors by the companies" leaders significantly helped to differentiate a great company from merely a good company.
These findings of differentiating attributes were described and reported in great detail in both books. Both books have been essential reading for any manager and/or entrepreneur looking to emulate the long-term success of such model companies as Intel, General Electric, American Express, Merck and Coca-Cola.
After reading Built to Last in the late 1900"s, I vividly recall being so moved by the stories of success that I purchased copies of the book for each and every member of my staff.
In 2001, when Good to Great was first published, I was one of those people who bought the book on the first day it was available (coincidentally my birthday).
About that same time, OptiFuse was founded...so I decided early on that this new company would be adopting the success principles found within these books. My goal was to build a lasting company that wouldn"t just be good...it would be great!
While this was a noble pursuit, it took some time to come to the painful conclusion that small entrepreneurial start-up companies were not in any way similar to the massively large public companies that Collins and his team profiled.
We didn"t have even a small fraction of the resources that were abundantly available to companies like those in the books...
I wasn"t the only person to come to this conclusion.
, editor-at-large for Inc. Magazine had just completed a cover story about Zingerman"s in Ann Arbor, MI entitled, "The Coolest Small Company in America".
Zingerman"s wasn"t a large public company - nor did it want to ever be. It was a small local food service company that aspired to make a difference...in their community...in their employees...and in their customers and vendors...
They exhibited very few of the attributed described by Jim Collins...yet they were indeed a "great" company in almost every measure.
As responses from the article poured into Inc. magazine"s headquarters, it was clear that there were a multitude of small companies across America with stories of success and greatness.
Like Jim Collins and his team, Bo Burlingham set out to identify some truly great small companies that strove to make
a real difference. With the help of many friends and associates, he ultimately selected 14 study companies that ranged in size from 2 employees to 1,700 employees.
He would come to call these businesses "Small Giants".
Bo and his team spent time studying each of the Small Giants, looking for both similarities and differences among them.
In the end, what he found were 6 similar attributes among these enterprises that helped to define and differentiate this group of companies from other like businesses.
Each of the businesses decided to teach and foster leadership principles within their organization. Although they were all relatively small companies, power was not concentrated at the top and dictated down to the employees. Leadership was a team effort with management empowering the people around them to make decisions and implement ideas. These organizations were self-aware knowing who they are, what they wanted and why.
The Small Giant companies believe themselves to be an integral part of their respective communities. Each business is actively engaged to make their community a better place to live. These enterprises regularly volunteer and donate resources (time, product, money, scholarships, apprenticeships, and awareness) to their communities and unique causes. They understand that there is a symbiotic relationship between all members of the community that surrounds them.
The companies in the study are passionate about what it is that they do. They have found their higher purpose for being in business in the first place (hint: their "why" isn"t solely to enrich their shareholders...of which is the fiduciary responsibility of public companies). Their ultimate goal is to create a vehicle to make the world a better place than it would have been without them.
Small Giant companies value and respect relationships. Relationships between the company and their customers, their vendors and their employees are really personal connections because they involve trust. They believe that trust is always earned and never taken for granted. Relationships involve caring for people in the totality of their lives...not just the time involving business transactions.
Although expressed in many different ways and varying degrees, each Small Giant company has a strong sense of culture, traditions and rituals. They are in essence a true family or tribe...sharing the same hopes, fears, opportunities, and dreams.
6. Slow growth and steady profitability
While all of the above 5 attributes of a Small Giant company are indeed noble; none of them can be accomplished if the business goes bankrupt and ceases to exist. Therefore, a Small Giant company must remain profitable to it to continue doing its good work into the future.
After Bo Burlingham completed his study, he published a book entitled "Small Giants" (of course...what else would you call it?).
As more and more people read the book, they too wanted to belong to the Small Giants community. They had no little or no interest in creating and running a company beholden to shareholders, but rather to the people that surround them.
These companies are more interested in pursuing human values...not high investor valuations.
This past week, I had the opportunity to attend the Small Giants summit in Denver, an annual conference of organizations that aspire to leave their mark and truly affect positive change in the world.
What I discovered was that the enterprises and people who make up these organization not only talk the talk...but also walk the walk.
They live by principle of "it"s not what we do...but it"s who we are that defines us"
While large public enterprises such as Amazon, Apple, Google, Ford, Walmart, Mobil/Exxon, and General Electric dominate the business news each day...it"s really the Small Giants that to define and shape our communities in the U.S. and throughout the world.
One person I spoke with, Ryan, summed it up best..."I find my calling when my greatest passion collides with my greatest contribution to make the world a better place"