An article in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month argued (from a US viewpoint) that government aid for small businesses is "bad economics and bad policy". Todd McCracken, President and CEO of the National Small Business Association, responded with an article addressing specific points to argue the exact opposite.

Regardless of where on the political spectrum you place yourself, or which article you'd agree with more, it is true that the size of a business has an impact on its ways of working. An example given by McCracken is how employing "family members, neighbours and friends" is commonplace for a small business, but that it means a different thing for "a multi-national corporation whose CEO resides 1,000 miles away from the majority of her workers".

One thing that small businesses do uniquely well is change.

One small business I know could have its entire workforce editing wedding photos one week, baking cupcakes the next and developing a website the week after. That would be impossible in a big business, where the lead time for new products is typically months, let alone full-scale changes in business model.

The problem faced by big business in the present time is the idea that change is the new normal.

Where your ability to succeed is based on your ability to change, small businesses have a natural advantage. But that doesn't mean it's a foregone conclusion. Big businesses have access to scale, brand recognition and often lots of data, enabling the important skill of anticipation. And, of course, there are plenty of small businesses that have being doing things the same way for decades and face the same fundamental challenge as the biggest businesses do, so perhaps size isn't the be all and end all.

The solution is in organisational culture.

The reason why the photography-bakery-web business works is that everyone there has the attitudes and behaviours to make that work. The owner embraces new ideas from his employees, generously rewards risk-taking and allows people to be themselves. Imagine a big business with those sorts of characteristics and you're likely to imagine its headquarters in Silicon Valley or Silicon Roundabout.

It's easy to then gravitate towards books such as Disrupt or be Disrupted, Disrupt Yourself or Blue Ocean Strategy, but the answer really comes down to leadership and culture.

I'd love to find out what you're experiencing and thinking - what's working, what lessons you're learning and what challenges you're facing. Please do get in touch for a conversation.