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Being BIG vs. Thinking Different

Posted September 17th, 2012 by Andrew Goodman

The tech world is littered with tales of cage matches between perceived underdogs and huge overdogs, the latter of whom don’t realize at the time that they’re even in a cage match. (Oftentimes, they’re still gradually figuring it out to this day… until, even, their dying day.)

That’s one of at least 1,000 deep insights buried in the Walter Isaacson bio of Steve Jobs.

“You know Steve, he has his own agenda,” Sony’s CEO Nobuyuki Idei explained to Red Herring editor Tony Perkins. “Although he is a genius, he doesn’t share everything with you. This is a difficult person to work with if you are a big company… It is a nightmare.”

In the ten years since Sony’s CEO made that statement, Sony’s stock has dropped 70% in value (while, admirably, paying a consistent dividend). Over that same period of time, Apple has become the most valuable company in the world. Apple’s stock price increased 9,751% over that same period.

Who’s the big company now? Why did Sony assume that Apple wasn’t one? And that you could talk about “Steve” so dismissively? Did Sony feel threatened yet dismissive all at the same time? (By market capitalization, today Apple is 50X Sony’s size.)

You’ll notice a consistent tone in such bigger-company bully talk. “We’re a big company” style big companies have a habit of “big companying” themselves into the ground. Even when obviously threatened by change, they cling to dismissive, supercilious language — as if size alone is a built-in advantage, as if their market is a constant.

It’s a competitive landscape and there is no “end point,” so naturally upstarts maniacally focused on execution often trump those who’ve lapsed into “being big.”

“Being big” is something you do in the passive voice and the present (soon to be past) tense. The prickly upstarts so often speak in the active voice, about future outcomes.

4 Responses to “Being BIG vs. Thinking Different”

  1. Sylvain says:

    But the cultural aspect has to be taken into account too. Japan is the country of Keiretsus, where success is measured by the number of employees you control, the number of industries you’re in, the longevity of your business and the number of inventions you put out to the market, not mere market capitalization (just look at Facebook and see how volatile the metric can be). By those standards, Apple remains a small and young company compared to Sony.

  2. Andrew G says:

    Well… if Apple’s small now, then look out world. And it’s true. Fascination with Apple products — even the iPhone… does not reach everywhere. In the Italian countryside, for example. Where I heard a boy scream at a rail passenger a question as to whether his “phone was Chinese.” It was an odd looking new expensive thing to him, nothing more.

    But where will Sony vs. Apple be in that boy’s life in ten, twenty years’ time?

    I still believe that a lot of that stuff with Sony is in the category of “was” and “did”.

    Looking around my home, I see a Sony “it was considered big 10 years ago” flat screen TV. Low margin, uninteresting (if reasonably good) product. And I am one of the strange people who has bought not one but two Sony laptops. (I buy all sorts of cheap laptops, and have had one expensive one, a Toshiba ultrabook when that was a new category.)

    Looking into my past, I had a Sony camera. Never again.

    It’s all “had, was, did, shrug.” It’s not looking great for companies like Sony.

    Didn’t Apple create its own keiretsu (for example) by rolling out the iPod, that drove sales of Macs, on that company’s OS, all purchasable in that company’s retail store? All in a very short period of time, too… before moving onto the iPhone, the iPad, and other wildly successful products.

    I’m not an Apple user, in particular — correction, at all. But an admirer, for sure.

  3. Bob L says:

    ‘“Being big” is something you do in the passive voice and the present (soon to be past) tense. The prickly upstarts so often speak in the active voice, about future outcomes.’

    Nice attempt at a metaphor, but “being” is a copulative verb, and is not in the passive voice.

  4. Nice attempt at criticism.


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