Is Size Overrated?

Some years ago, my son played in a youth basketball league that was pretty intense. The reason for the intensity was that most of the fathers were trying to relive their youth through their sons, and wanted their boys to become the athletes that they themselves never were.

In my son’s first year, he played in a league for fourth graders. At that age, there are always some kids who are way ahead of the pack – who have developed their skills to a level two or three years beyond their chronological age. Kids like these can win championships all by themselves.

There were a lot of excellent ballplayers in my son’s league, but the best of the best was a shrimp who played as though he could have stepped into the starting lineup of the Harlem Globetrotters without missing a beat. When he dribbled, you could swear he had a string attached to the ball.

Notwithstanding the fact that he was one of the shortest kids in the league, he led all scorers and had a season high of 42 points in one game. I don’t know if he’ll end up playing college ball somewhere, but at that age he was truly awesome.

I happened to be sitting next to this pint-size wizard’s parents at a semi-final playoff game, and, as usual, he totally controlled the tempo. I noted that his mom and dad were also very short.

At one point, I asked his dad how his son was able to dominate kids twice his size. He replied, “I’ve always taught him that size is overrated.” What a great philosophy to feed an undersized kid. What a great self-esteem builder.

I never forgot that father’s words. In fact, on reflection, I now think of him as a modern-day Aristotle. He prompted me to think about all the big people and big entities that paralyze most of the world’s population. And he reinforced my longstanding belief that smallness can actually be turned into an advantage.

Size matters … but it doesn’t carry the day. What matters more are qualities such as determination, persistence, a desire to learn, and, above all, resourcefulness.

David slew Goliath … the war-torn Japanese caught, then overtook, the big, bad U.S. automakers … Spud Webb, at 5′ 6″ and 133 pounds, won the NBA’s slam-dunk contest in 1986 … the Yankees are now routinely pushed around at playoff time by traditional non-winners like the Angels, Red Sox, and Diamondbacks. You could go on with this list for hours.

People often marvel at how Wal-Mart snuck up on Sears, which was the largest retailer in the world for decades. Not too long ago, Wal-Mart was a joke in retailing circles – a little regional company with stores in towns that had populations of 5,000 or less.

The fat-cat Sears board members and top executives, up to their ears in perks and golden parachutes, never even saw Sam Walton coming. If you were the largest retailer in the world, would you have been afraid of an outfit out of Bentonville, Arkansas?

Sears thought it was being very prudent to keep one eye on Target and the other on Kmart. Too bad it didn’t have a third eye in the back of its corporate head to keep tabs on that cute little retailer from nowheresville.

Yes, size matters, but it doesn’t insulate one from failure.

Take the poor elephant. He’s the largest land animal on the planet, but that hasn’t done him a whole lot of good. Of the more than 350 species of proboscideans that paleontologists have been able to identify, only two remain – the African and Indian elephants.

In fact, the elephant’s main problem is that he is too big. Just to absorb all the oxygen he requires, he needs an acre of lung surface. He has to roam around 16 hours each and every day to find hundreds of pounds of grass and foliage to satisfy his hundreds of feet of intestines and complex digestive organs.

Worse, because of his enormous size, he can’t even jump over a seven-foot trench. He’s been known to be freaked out by dogs, mosquitoes, and even ants. And he is unusually prone to such illnesses as colds, pneumonia, mumps, and diabetes.

I tell you, size is overrated.

Upstart Microsoft didn’t fear giant IBM … upstart Google didn’t fear giant Microsoft … and some unknown upstart who is working in his garage at this very moment doesn’t fear giant Google.

Nor should you fear giants. Never forget that you have many advantages over the big guys, one of the most important being that you can move much more swiftly than elephants like IBM, Microsoft, and Google. After all, they are under tremendous pressure to build more and more lung capacity just to be able to absorb enough air.

While the giants are huffing and puffing to fend off predators, you have the luxury of concentrating on action – bold, continuous action. And for you, jumping a seven-foot trench should be a piece of cake. Of course, if you’re lucky enough to become a giant some day, you’ll find that making that jump becomes harder with each passing year.

You’ll also find that your chances of longevity will increase if you can figure out a way to put an eye in the back of your head as you grow larger. You’ll need that eye, because you can count on the entrepreneurial descendents of Bill Gates, Sam Walton, et al to be coming up fast behind you.