The Bigger You Get, The Harder It Is To Stay Small

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Nicolas Cole Instagram

The advertising agency I worked at in my early 20s was small.

The founders of the company had all attended University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, and at the end of the program decided to join forces. Each had built or run companies in the past, were either successful entrepreneurs or seasoned executives, and collectively saw a massive hole in the market:

There were an infinite number of branding and marketing agencies, but very few “innovation labs.”

The company was called Idea Booth.

Whenever the Managing Partners would hop on calls with current or prospective clients (and I sat in the room, taking notes, as an entry-level copywriter for the firm), they would repeat this phrase over and over again:

“The bigger you get, the harder it is to stay small.”

They would then go on to explain that all the other big agencies — the Digitas’s and BBDOs and DDBs of the world — once started out as small, highly creative shops. But over the years had become bloated with layers of management, red tape, and cultures of tremendous efficiency but “status quo creativity.”

What clients were paying for was, in fact, the benefit of working with an agency that had remained small by choice.

Over the years, this phrase has become a mantra for me.

It applies as much to business as it does to life.

The bigger you get, the more you accomplish, the higher you climb, etc., the harder it is to stay small, humble, unapologetically creative, and open to new possibilities. You become attached to your title, your status, and your position high up on the hill. You stop playing the game to push new boundaries, and start prioritizing not losing what you’ve gained thus far.

Very few stay nimble.

This is an Atomic Essay from the Ship 30 for 30 daily writing challenge.

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