In just about every scenario imaginable, success is usually found at the edges rather than the middle. Being in the middle is normal, comfortable, average, bland, OK, alright, doing fine…. feels safe but usually isn’t. Be big or small, not medium sized. Be loved or hated but never just OK. Be the hero or the villain, who wants to be the victim. Be thoughtful and considered or crazy and passionate, but have an opinion and don’t sit on the fence. Being at the edge creates a reaction, something happens. But there’s more to it. Being at one edge makes it easier to take on the other side, to compete. Being in the middle means sharing some traits from both sides but not enough to matter to, or be, either.
MIT Sloan Management Review has a detailed research article on Social Business: What are companies really doing? Lots of case studies and examples about what works and what doesn’t. And yet again, the challenge for those in the middle. One of the key findings was that size matters:
To back their social business activities, both small companies (those with fewer than 1,000 employees) and large companies (those with more than 100,000 employees) tend to have stronger management support for social business initiatives than do midsize companies.
With social tools, small companies are demonstrating that they can appear larger than their actual size; large companies can appear less like corporate behemoths. Midsize companies see the advantages of social tools but, in general, do not see themselves exploiting these advantages for another few years.
It makes sense. Small companies usually have more flexibility to innovate and experiment, there is less bureaucracy. There is often also the urgency to do something, anything, to grow. Large companies can be big enough to allow for experiments – so much bureaucracy, ideas can fly under the radar, what harm can they do? There are usually enough funds to take the odd risk and see where it goes. But for medium-sized companies, change comes much harder. Big enough to feel there is too much to risk losing. Not big enough to have a war chest to fund crazy ideas.
The competition is between the very small and the very large. And that competition eats away at the market for those in the middle. And all the while, those in the middle are waiting to see what happens. Feeling safe… and far from it.