A High-Tech Mantra for Low-Tech Initiatives


“Think Big, Start Small, Act Fast” is one of those sayings that comes up fairly often if you spend any time in the innovation and technology worlds. But this concept also pays dividends in other spheres.

I was chief of staff at the “Center for Culture” of a major financial services company. We were the company’s a relatively low-tech internal communications and marketing “agency.” We set out to built a global program across the company’s businesses in 101 countries. The longer-term goal was to draw up histories of our businesses in all of those countries, based on our resources in fine art, archives, and historical narratives. But we started small, with a focus on the company’s history in just one country­—Brazil. We forced ourselves to get rapidly up to speed with that country’s business-specific needs in order to support the company’s centennial there. With what we learned from that activity, we built the program out to some 60 countries.

Some years later, I applied a similar pattern to a start-up company that was looking to create a national marketing campaign, that would focus selling products to family-owned businesses across the nation: we also started small. We identified the characteristics of the highest priority type of client, which itself was about to branch out nationwide with its external advertising. We rapidly designed print and digital marketing materials based on their needs, intending to tweak the designs and delivery methods will be tweaked based on lessons learned.

Recently, to build the membership base of the faith-based non-profit that I mentioned in my last post, we wanted to create extensive programing that would satisfy the needs of our membership, increase member satisfaction, and increase our constituency. We started, however, with a simple phone-based initiative, calling one person at a time, and slotted its launch into a brief respite between two other major projects, both of which are benefiting from new support.

Four lessons to take away:

  • Transplanting a concept from one arena to another can be useful: here I’m advocating applying a technology concept more broadly. As mentioned above, we also took an agency model and applied it to an internal corporate function; I later took a communications method common in on kind of non-profit and applied it to a faith-based one.
  • “Thinking big” should mesh with your overall vision. It can then help you create the roadmap to realizing your vision.
  • But big-thinking projects will begin with smaller steps. Apart from simply “getting you started” they will help establish the methods you’ll apply more broadly.
  • And finally, if you fail to act fast, you risk losing momentum–or the urgent need will pass and you’ll lose your opportunity to learn from it.
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