The Next Small Thing

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Last week Apple CEO Tim Cook announced the newest iPhone design, confirming the one feature that has been the subject of Apple-watcher speculation for months: its screen is smaller.

Ever since Apple revolutionized the smartphone world with the 3.5″ screened original iPhone in 2007, the march toward bigger and bigger screens has been dizzying to behold. By the end of 2009, HTC had unveiled the first 4.3″ screen with its Windows-based HTC HD2. The following spring, the first 4″ Android-running phone had arrived: the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10. By 2013, the standard was 5″ screens, and has continued to balloon: enter Samsung’s latest flagship, the 5.5″ display of the Galaxy S7 Edge. We’ve even had to incorporate a new mongrel of a word into our technology vocabulary: phablet.

And now Apple launches a new, powerful, 4″ iPhone. In the quest for better, it is refreshing to see a leader in an extremely competitive space place a marker for smaller.

iphone sizes

It is a concept that has wide applicability.

The article of faith that bigger = better for companies of all sizes is rampant. But the world is changing: information is ubiquitous, communication is instantaneous, and notions of value are more fluid than ever. In a world with higher speed limits and more twisty curves than stable straightaways, having the biggest vehicle becomes a liability. In this new landscape, nimble agility wins over massive size. According to Sally Blount, the dean of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, the answer to this conundrum is — not surprisingly — leadership:

And who is going to lead these firms of the future? We’ll need leaders with deep insight into their organizations’ markets, customers and capabilities; leaders who create and leverage more flexible architectures for connecting and collaborating; leaders who foster cultures based on constant self-scrutiny, innovation and an ability to forge unexpected partnerships; leaders who can keep pace with new market opportunities and ever-more-aggressive investor herds; leaders who can inspire new kinds of growth.

In other words, leaders who can lay down the easy, stale, and safe mission of being the biggest in favor of the much tougher, imaginative, and riskier goal: being the best. Rob DeMartini, CEO of New Balance, is such a leader. As he told Ryan Hawk during his appearance on The Learning Leader Show:

“We don’t need to be the biggest to be the best.”

Imagine that. Smaller-handed iPhone fans couldn’t agree more.

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