I wish I didn’t have to write this post. I wish it wasn’t required to point out something that seems so damn obvious. But it has become tragically necessary based on far too many things said and emailed to me lately. Therefore, I’m going to attempt to clear up an unfortunate misconception that blinds too many otherwise smart individuals. It’s called Big Brand Blindness and its based on a lie that seems to carry so much weight:
An individual with little-to-no “big brand” professional experience isn’t able to be effective in a large corporate environment.
To which I can only say, “Bullshit!” It’s pure crap and constructed from at least five myths. Let’s take a look at each one that unfairly stigmatizes the hard work of professionals in small and medium enterprises (I’m including nonprofits here with SMEs):
Myth #1: You can’t cope with complexity.
Yes, I get it. Your megasized multinational company is an elaborate, convoluted leviathan that defies the laws of reason. Guess what? Someone who has built a career within an SME also understands complexity. That’s because – unlike in Big Brand – we don’t have the luxury of specialization. We can’t and that’s honestly to our benefit. We wear two, three, sometimes four hats because that’s what is needed to complete the project and make the customer happy. We’re experts at creativity, constantly doing more with increasingly fewer resources. We can cope with complexity because we live it every single working day.
Myth #2: You can’t handle pressure.
Want to know what pressure is? When Big Brand has a bad quarter, looks like Wall Street won’t be happy. If an SME has a bad quarter, it could mean the end of the company. Now which one seems more pressure-intensive to you? And because SMEs are typically closer to their customers, there’s a tremendous amount of pressure to keep them satisfied. If they’re unhappy and tell others, there goes a potentially huge chunk of business.
Myth #3: You don’t know how to communicate with executives.
As if multinational corporate executives are some strange race of aliens that require knowledge of a special language only learned by toiling through the hierarchy of Big Brand. Communications skills are universal. If you know how to get your point across successfully to your SME’s senior leaders or Board of Directors, I guarantee the communication capability translates fine to the CEO or CMO of Big Brand.
Myth #4: Your skillset (feel free to plug in expertise, knowledge, etc) doesn’t scale.
This one drives me batshit. We’re not talking about going from CEO of a two-person office to the CEO of Big Brand (though you might argue that the CEO of an SME could run a company like aol., BP, Lehman Brothers just as well as their current counterparts). Just because you have experience within Big Brand doesn’t necessarily mean you’re any more qualified to do work at another Big Brand. I’m further convinced this myth is a smokescreen because you’ll never know if it does actually scale. You’ve already cast your judgment and you’ve already missed the talent in front of your nose. Good luck with that.
Myth #5: You don’t really know about business.
The coup de grâce. Let’s face it, this is what’s really being said every single time the charge of not having enough Big Brand experience is leveled toward a candidate. There’s a sense perpetuated by those within Big Brand that business is only truly conducted at the multinational level. SMEs are small potatoes where the real lessons of managing P&L, budgets, employees, customer relations, and executive expectations still mean little in comparison. Really? Sorry but I strongly disagree with that small-mindedness.
For my parting shot, I’m going to go out on a limb with my own hypothesis for what’s to blame (at least partially). If we’re honest, there’s some posturing going on – particularly when it comes to consulting agencies who work with Big Brand. The desire to fill the stables with people from a well-known, Fortune 500 corporation isn’t so much about their ability or expertise as it is about their prestige (“Oooh, he worked for Big Brand, he must be smart. And that’ll look great on our website’s About Us page.”) There’s a mystique that people like to attach to work done at Big Brands. Some of it is truly well-deserved and to be respected. Some of it is unspectacular but lauded because Big Brands get attention. And quite a bit of it is built on non-creative, safe, ineffective adherence to not rocking the Big Brand boat. In reality, work done within a Big Brand isn’t any better or worse than work done within an SME. So let’s stop with all this shallow Big Brand Blindness where candidates get overlooked not because of the quality of their past or potential of their future work, but just because of for whom their past work was done.
So, let’s hear it. If you’re currently working inside a big brand, what’s your take? And if you’ve been passed over due to big brand blindness, what have you done to heal this unfortunate affliction? Lay it down in the comments.
photo credit: spoinknet (via Flickr)