I read with interest a recent study which showed that 90% of Americans have a good opinion of small business, and only 60% of them have the same warm feelings toward big business. As someone who has spent my professional life helping large for-profit (and non-profit) organizations maximize their influence potential in the legislative arena, this is not news. It’s pretty much an article of faith that helping “the little guy,” in this case small businesses, makes us feel better about ourselves. As it should.
There is a lesson here for large organizations ( and I will use the term “organizations” rather than simply “big business” because big non-profits are at risk also), and that is that small is the new big—big influence, big power, and big credibility. Let’s face it, the bigger the company, the bigger the consequences during an “oops” moment. We’ve seen the consequences of this in the financial services and automobile industries.
Underdog Status = Colored Glasses
In my research conducted for The Underdog Edge, www.underdogedge.com
I found that once we determine a person or entity is a worthy (and “worthy” is the operative word) underdog, we view their situation and them completely differently. We imbue upon them positive characteristics that flavor how we interact with them, root for them, and most important, allow them to persuade us. Being a worthy underdog is indeed an influence edge. What does this mean for large organizations?
Big companies can have the small business underdog edge by emphasizing their risky, innovative, sacrificial roots. So many large businesses have fantastic stories of how they started from nothing, and are still engaged in difficult endeavors that require an entrepreneurial mindset. But are they telling those stories? And are they true stories, with flesh and blood characters, or examples with data?
Many times we view small businesses as being more innovative, as taking more risks, and more sacrificial than large businesses. To a large degree that is true. Let’s face it, small businesses don’t have a huge profit margin or margin for error when plans go awry.
However, large businesses also have those characteristics…but they don’t remind anyone. I think of my friends in the pharmaceutical industry who have scientists and researchers that toil year after year with no immediate gratification from their research. I look at many big businesses that had to survive numerous lawsuits before they could open their doors.
Just because you represent a large company doesn’t mean you can’t possess the underdog edge. The late Steve Jobs and Oprah Winfrey were once underdogs, and although both accumulated more money than most European countries, their compelling underdog biographies creates a halo effect — we view them more positively than “trust fund” entrepreneurs.
Now, it’s time for any large business that wants to gain goodwill and influence up the food chain to think small and embrace the underdog edge.