Doctors aren’t the only ones to have worked out that life is healthier – and longer – when lived in moderation. Exercise, yes. But not too much and not too little. Sleep? Not too much, not too little. Drink? Not too much, not too little. Almost sounds boring. That’s what lots of captains of industry and managers probably thought. Their motto was “growth to the max” – at any price. And if the long, hard slog to grow still didn’t work: buy extra sales or buy someone else! Headlines were full of takeovers and mergers – a sign of the times, modern management practice. Even if it meant yet more credit.
Dizzy stuff. And risky. But what a ride! Now we can only look back at the mad scramble to be bigger and better and scratch our heads. We’ve all seen mergers go up in flames, especially those rooted in megalomania. We all know what happened to the dinosaurs. When companies reach a certain size – or, in crisis parlance, “critical magnitude” – failure is no longer an option, and statements like “too big to fail'” become a merciless maxim of rescue planning. Darwin’s law, survival of the fittest, has mutated into its very opposite: survival of the fattest.
This isn’t the law of nature. Unrestricted size is a rare thing. Small is beautiful – as in the case of countless highly specialized life forms, which live at one with their surroundings while remaining amazingly adept at adapting to change. No help from outside. No central coordination. Since the onset of industrialization, standardized, mass-produced goods were (and still are) a desirable end – because they’re cheaper to make and thus affordable for most. So big companies did make sense. But even here, the paradigm is shifting. “Customizing” is no longer a buzzword used in marketing to hail the virtues of color variants or optional fittings. The way forward is genuine customizing, adapting highly flexible production configurations and processes, to make even the smallest of batches possible – at a reasonable price. So now we’re in a much better position to fulfill individual client needs. The customer is once again the spotlight of product development and innovation. But beware: this approach should also be used in moderation.
Excessive individualization waters down the identity of the product – which is vital to decision-making. Without an identity, what is a brand, a benefit, an image? Where does that leave expectations and affinity with peer groups? People will still need similarity and uniformity. It all comes back to the same maxim: everything in moderation. Thinking beyond selling and making a quick buck is nothing to be ashamed of. Customer satisfaction, environmental friendliness, safety, staff motivation, quality, product durability, service excellence and mutual respect are all laudable aims in business. It’s fine to reshuffle our values – in fact, now is the ideal time to do so. Let’s be hungry for knowledge, not hungry for more; levelheaded, not big-headed; considerate, not condescending; candid, not complicated; conscientious, not covetous – values that should transcend every successful mediumsized enterprise in the long term. Does that sound boring to you? Well maybe it is. But it’s healthy!
Professor Dipl.-Des. (FH) Detlef Rahe, MFA
Professor Dipl.-Des. (FH) Detlef Rahe heads up the i/i/d Steinbeis Transfer Center (the institute for integrated design) in Bremen. Read more about how he and his colleagues support innovation processes with early, user-oriented :
A helping hand