There’s a big advantage in starting small. Polycom’s biggest early breakthrough, for instance, came about as the result of a 95-cent book I purchased from RadioShack in 1991. That pamphlet taught my cofounder and me about a nerdy topic known as “acoustic suspension,” a concept that showed us the fallacy in assuming that big sound demands a big loudspeaker.
Using this simple principle, we were able to go small by bringing two separate acoustic environments into a compact space. That tiny shift in our thinking is what set us on the path to selling millions of phones and changing what conference rooms look like today — a path that continues to be built from small innovations, small designs, and small habits.
Over my 25 years at Polycom we’ve had our fair share of big things, but they didn’t happen by making those big things the centerpiece. Big things happen because of small things, which means that if all you do is “go big,” you’ll never actually get to your goal. To help escape the myth of going big, I want to share three small things that I’ve learned make a big difference.
Small innovations. Zeroing in on small innovations leads to big breakthroughs. After all, the hinge for innovation, as cliché as it might sound, is doing more with less. Instead of becoming obsessed with big, ask yourself questions like, “What’s the smallest change we could make in our product, our delivery, our distribution, our organizational structure, or our communication?” Even better are questions that force you to add by subtraction: “What could we take awayfrom those same areas to make them better and simplify the process?”
Small designs. This second insight flows out of the first. However, designs are about what the customer experiences, rather than the innovations that define them.
Focusing on small design isn’t just about reducing size; it’s also about reducing complexity. As counterintuitive as it may sound, every new iteration of our products has been driven not just by making those products do more but also by letting their users do less.
In Creativity, Inc., Pixar’s founder and CEO Ed Catmull describes how the rectangular tables in Pixar’s meetings (its meeting design) negatively impacted creativity early on.