The Importance of Thinking Big in Business
As a seventh grade student I pondered what was then an important question to me. Why did one of my schoolmates Ronnie Silbergeld live in a fancy house with a swimming pool (rare in Niagara Falls) and we lived in a cramped public housing apartment? Ron’s father was in the junk business and a brief conversation with him gave me some useful insight. Mr. Silbergeld told me that he always tried to “buy for one and sell for two” and “never be afraid to think big.” In these times of rapid change and insecurity, we should all be working on our ability to accept big thinking.
That pattern of “why do they have something and I don’t” repeats itself in the lives of most people for longer than it should. You may have experienced walking through a venue where various seminars are being held and you notice one group has the nicest looking food, the more interesting speaker and seem to be having the best time. Then you pass a second room where everything seems a bit more downscale and less sharp. The people in the second room were probably as bright and educated as the first group, but are having a different experience. I’m suggesting that the difference may simply be one of thinking and expectations. One group was demonstrating the ability to think bigger and aim higher.
There are always inspirational examples of big thinking that we can learn from. My current favorite is Rupert Murdoch’s recent purchase of Dow Jones which took some bold, imaginative and unlimited thinking. Twenty years ago, the market value of Dow Jones was about $2.6 billion when Murdoch’s News Corp was $3.3. Today his business has soared to a valuation of $66.7 billion while Dow Jones sank to $1.86 billion. Both companies have more than a few smart people on the executive floor but one business seemed to apply small, defensive thinking while the other was always working an expansive vision.
“We become what we think about.” Earl Nightingale
Many of us who start businesses simply want to build something that will give us a degree of independence and support our families in a middle class lifestyle. Some of us simply don’t make great employees, and feel we could do it better than the folks we previously worked for. The start up phase of a business is such an obsessive undertaking that we can usually only focus on what is in front of us and the next few weeks ahead. But if the business survives, the day comes when we lift our gaze from the near term goals and are forced to think in terms of bigger dreams and how ambitious we might dare to be.
What if your dream takes a turn that points toward being much larger. At Harvard Business School they have a term “BHAG” which is big, hairy, audacious goals. In his article “In Praise of Positive Obsessions,” creativity coach Eric Maisel, PhD describes positive obsessions as "insistent, recurrent thoughts or sets of thoughts, pressurized in feel, that are extremely difficult to ignore, that compel one to act, and that connect to one’s goals and values as an active meaning-maker and authentic human being."
There is reward and satisfaction in big thinking but it is so easy to forget when you hit the inevitable rough spots in building your dream. The lesson from Mr. Silbergeld or Mr. Murdoch really amounts to not letting the ever present challenges shrink your thinking. The German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said it so well. “The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic to it.”
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