12 min read ⌚
Learn to Play the Great Game
Want to be successful?
Then you better learn how to play the great game.
And the main lesson according to Wes Berry:
Who Should Read “Big Things Have Small Beginnings”? And Why?
Big Things Have Small Beginnings is a book about everyone ambitious enough to dream of a successful company.
It is a book which lays down the essentials of business in a pretty bare, straightforward form – so it’s best suited for a novice or a future entrepreneur.
Experienced leaders may consult it as a reminder.
About Wes Berry
Wes Berry is an American entrepreneur, business expert, and bestselling author.
After turning his family’s 60k florist shop into a $60-million floral, gifts, and plants international business, Berry sold the company to follow other passions and enjoy other endeavors.
One of this is The People’s Voice, a weekly radio podcast of which Berry is the host; the other is sharing his knowledge through the written word, and Big Things Have Small Beginnings was the first step in that direction; the book was a Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller.
Find out more at https://wesberryradio.com/.
“Big Things Have Small Beginnings PDF Summary”
“I chose the title Big Things Have Small Beginnings for this book,” writes Wes Berry in the very first sentence of it, “because I know that I’m living proof of that very truth.”
Even more, he goes on: “every successful leader I’ve studied has in some way or another borne out the same truth.”
And the truth is rather simple and straightforward: successful people spend a lot more time and energy on small things that unsuccessful people so often seem to neglect.
To illustrate this point, Wes Berry retells a pretty little story you probably already know; but since the moral of that story is “pretty much what this book is about,” we believe it especially worthy of quoting:
Well, as the story goes, it seems that horseshoe soon worked itself loose on a single hard ride, and the poor horse stumbled and fell. He threw his rider, who was injured badly enough that he wasn’t able to complete his journey. Unfortunately, that meant that the message the rider was carrying never got through to the general for whom it was intended. Had the general received the message in time, he would have waited just that one more day to attack, that is, until the large band of reinforcements could arrive. He didn’t know. So he did attack, as well as he was able. He felt he had no choice And, sad to say, he was resoundingly defeated. But worse, he was the last and best defense of the king. And so the king, and of course the kingdom, was lost.
If it’s not already obvious, here’s what Wes Berry would like you to remember: “when you take care of the little stuff, the big stuff has a real nice way of taking care of itself.”
Part I: Examining the Playing Field
Part I – “Examining the Playing Field” – is the shortest one of the book but it is also the most necessary if not the most important: it sets the tone for what comes next.
Comprised of only three chapters – “Ambition… For Better, or Worse?” “The American Business Climate,” and “Your ‘Why’ Is a Must-Know” – the first part begins with a quote by none other than the original American Titan, John D. Rockefeller:
“The person who starts out simply with the idea of getting rich,” noted once the richest man in all of human history, “won’t succeed; you must have a larger ambition. There is no mystery in business success. If you do each day’s task successfully, and stay faithfully within these natural operations of commercial laws which I talk so much about, and keep your head clear, you will come out all right.”
The Power of Why”
Rockefeller’s quote is a more than appropriate for this occasion, and Wes Berry uses it as a springboard to (somewhat unnecessarily) tread a territory already haunted by none other than the messiah of the millennials, Simon Sinek.
If, in combination with that Rockefeller quote, the title of the third chapter of Part I isn’t already a giveaway, let us spell it out for you: you don’t become rich by building a business to become rich; you become rich by building a business that gets you out of bed in the morning (i.e., start with why).
We know they say that when the going gets tough, the tough get going, but Berry has another idea. In his opinion, when the going gets tough, the ones who have a “why” are the only ones who endure:
When things get tough, it’s your ‘why’ that’ll keep you going. It’s your ‘why’ that will sit you down with your best people to relentlessly brainstorm what it’s going to take to move the business just one more step forward. It’s your ‘why’ that will justify risk. And it’s your ‘why’ that will get you to grit your teeth every single month and pay those horrendous bills even as you continue to drive on ahead.
Don’t believe him?
Believe Viktor Frankl instead: the famous psychotherapist and Auschwitz survivor notes in Man’s Search for Meaning that the ones who survived the Holocaust were not the toughest or smartest, but the ones who had an objective, a goal, a why.
It’s that simple.
And what about Berry’s why?
Kind of similar to Homer Simpson’s why: a picture of his wife and his four sons on his desk.
To make things a bit clearer, Berry reminds us of an almost half a millennium old essay by William Shakespeare – ups, pardon us, Stratfordians – by Francis Bacon, titled simply “On Ambition.”
Ambitious people become dangerous if they get their ambitions checked, and not (as common sense often suggests) the other way around; if they are left to roam free – they become productive and useful.
So, if you consider yourself ambitious, then just let your self go. However, don’t forget to use your “why” as an orientation, because that’s what ambition is, after all.
“Your very desire to succeed is your ambition,” writes Berry. “Embrace it! Without ambition, your chances of success in business are pretty slim.”
And then he marries this personal “why” of ambition with a more universal “why”: “truly ambitious people would rather taste defeat than never have the chance to wear the laurel wreaths of victory. And the best ambitions are not just for oneself, but for an ideal, something greater than the individual.”
Even though Berry dedicates a whole chapter to explaining this idea, may it be merely a side note in our summary, because it’s not something that needs a lengthy explanation.
And if you are not using the opportunities the Land of the Free gives you, then you’re really looking for an excuse not to do what is necessary.
“The real freedom that American Exceptionalism champions,” concludes Berry, “is the freedom of upward mobility. Yes, it does take work. But if one is willing to do that work, then that mobility, that position, is waiting for you; it’s pulling for you to reach it.”
Part II: The Challenge of Leadership
If the first part of Big Things Have Small Beginnings is all about the theoretical framework of becoming good by finding your “why,” the second part (interspersed with many examples taken straight out of Berry’s life: chapter 6 is almost exclusively biographical) is all about becoming great by putting the “who” between the “how” and the “what.”
Consequently – as you might have already deduced (we left you quite a few traces) – if the first part was haunted by the shadow of Simon Sinek, the second part of Berry’s book is an almost explicit homage to Jim Collins.
Collins’ Bus Metaphor
Unsurprisingly, the epigraph is that memorable metaphor from Good to Great in which Collins compares a business leader to a bus driver and a business to a bus.
Here’s it in full:
You are a bus driver. The bus, your company, is at a standstill, and it’s your job to get it going. You have to decide where you’re going, how you’re going to get there, and who’s going with you.
Most people assume that great bus drivers (read: business leaders) immediately start the journey by announcing to the people on the bus where they’re going—by setting a new direction or by articulating a fresh corporate vision.
In fact, leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline – first the people, then the direction – no matter how dire the circumstances.
Becoming a Leader
The main idea of this “who” in terms of your company is summarized at the very end of Part II, when Berry writes: “If you want to build a successful company, you’ve got to build successful leaders at every level of that company.”
In other words, as someone said once, “a great teacher has always been measured by the number of his students who have surpassed him.”
Why should leaders be any different?
However, in order to turn the ship around, you need first to become a successful leader yourself. And to do this, you need to follow a few simple steps – but quite thoroughly and really stick to them:
#1. Map your journey. Meaning: know your destination beforehand and divide your journey into many milestones; put target dates and predict bumps on the road; and never forget: no destination is too far if you know where you’re going and how to get there.
#2. Manage your time. OK, this one’s pretty self-explanatory. And we have summarized quite a few productivity books to help you organize yourself.
#3. Know your working tools. Always be in step with innovation; analyze other leaders and emulate them; read, read, read.
#4. Listen… and learn: understanding others. It’s all about gaining perspective – and having an open mind to gain one.
Part III: Seeking Out That Needle in the Haystack
“You may not know of Elbert Hubbard,” writes Berry in Chapter 12 (second of Part III), “but I could not have written this book if he had not existed.”
Oh, but we do know Elbert Hubbard quite well, Wes, and we admire him as much as you do; which, in other words, means that we already know many of the things you say in Part III – but thanks for reminding us, because every generation should remind the next one of Andrew S. Rowan.
In case you don’t remember him, check out the summary linked above; here, a three-sentence summary, just so that we can put this summary to bed.
A Message to Garcia
A Message to Garcia tells the partly fictional story of the quite real American army officer Andrew Summers Rowan, who, just prior to the Spanish–American War, was tasked with carrying a message from President William McKinley to the Cuban insurgents’ leader, General Calixto García.
It was a daring escapade, but Rowan just said “Yes, sir” and, after a self-driven effort through the mountain vastness of Cuba, he eventually did deliver the message to Garcia.
Well, let us allow Hubbard to tell it:
“The point I wish to make,” he writes, “is this: McKinley gave Rowan a letter to be delivered to Garcia; Rowan took the letter and did not ask, ‘Where is he at?’ By the Eternal! there is a man whose form should be cast in deathless bronze and the statue placed in every college of the land.”
And he goes on” “It is not book-learning young men need, nor instruction about this and that, but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies: do the thing – ‘Carry a message to Garcia!’”
In other not-so-kind words (once again by Hubbard), Rowan is an antidote to “the imbecility of the average man – the inability or unwillingness to concentrate on a thing and do it.”
The Rowans of Your Company
Wes Berry takes it from here and says: find a few Rowans, manage them well and keep each one of them long enough under your wings, and you’ve built yourself a successful business?
But how will you find a Rowan?
Berry suggests that you look for these four traits:
• research-oriented mind
• submissiveness to orders
Now, after you’ve found a Rowan, it’s your job to mentor him well so that he doesn’t burn out in his drive; this you’ll achieve by finding a balance between the freedom you’ll allow him and the orders you know he’ll respect.
It’s, once again, pretty simple on paper, but a bit difficult in practice.
The good thing?
It’s not that difficult when you’ve surrounded yourself with Rowans.
The “Conclusion” of Big Things Have Small Beginnings is basically a highly personal commentary on the margins of “For Want of a Nail” and Rudyard Kipling’s “If.”
And it ends with an inspiring quote:
Whatever you want to accomplish, it is up to YOU. It is up to you alone to become the person who has the willingness to do what it takes to achieve the success you desire. It is up to YOU to build within yourself the determination and the positive attitude that will guide you safely on the journey that you choose. It is up to you. Always remember that there is no such thing as failure. All setbacks are temporary. The Great Game never ends…unless you decide to quit. So I urge you, get yourself into the Game, and have the time of your life!
Key Lessons from “Big Things Have Small Beginnings”
1. When the Going Gets Tough, the Why Gets You Going
2. How to Become a Leader in Four Steps
3. The Four Traits of a Rowan
When the Going Gets Tough, the Why Gets You Going
A page taken out of Simon Sinek’s book; but, then again, it’s the most important page.
The idea is simple: you shouldn’t spend most of your quite limited time on this planet doing things you don’t want or have no desire for.
If, on the contrary, you do something you really like, then you’ll always have a “why” to return to when, inevitably, things should go haywire.
Let us rephrase this: if you struggle to find an answer to the question “why you are doing this?” then, by all means, don’t do it.
How to Become a Leader in Four Steps
Leaders are made, not born.
You can become one if you just follow these four simple steps:
#1. Map the journey of your company from start to finish, bumps and everything;
#2. Manage your time well;
#3. Know your working tools: innovate, learn from other successful leaders, and never, ever stop being curious, reading quite about everything:
#4. Listen and learn: understand the others and see the world through their perspective; there’s a lot of empathy in business.
The Four Traits of a Rowan
A successful company, according to Wes Berry, is a company built around Rowans. And a Rowan is a guy who is capable of delivering a message to Garcia without asking too many questions. And A Message to Garcia is a book by Elbert Hubbard you should read right now.
Anyway, a Rowan has four traits; these:
• research-oriented mind
• submissiveness to orders
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“Big Things Have Small Beginnings Quotes”Successful people seem to spend a lot more time and energy on small things that unsuccessful people so often seem to neglect. Click To Tweet When you take care of the little stuff, the big stuff has a real nice way of taking care of itself. Click To Tweet Everyone sees things through their own perspectives; and, if you don’t pay attention to the details that they’re paying attention to than you’re going to have the pay the price for your neglect. Click To Tweet The strength, the courage, the perseverance it takes to pick yourself up time and time again, to my mind at last, comes from having a good family and a good support group. Click To Tweet There is good in every experience that life has to offer, and it is our responsibility to seek out that good and advance to the next square on that checkered board of life. Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
Big Things Have Small Beginnings is a sort of a Sinek/Collins/Hubbard mashup – so it should appeal to just about everyone who’s interested in discovering his/her why, becoming great, or finding a Rowan to lead his company.
With that being said, the book doesn’t really offer anything quite new in any area – so, if you feel like you’ve already absorbed everything those three guys can offer, then this book may feel a bit redundant.
But, hey, repetition is the mother of knowledge, right?