The Small Giants We Want to Be

This blog is a little different than most, so I don’t usually find something else that conveys, in a more compelling way, what I’m trying to say. Yet that’s what I found when I read Small Giants.

La Mariee – Marc Chagall, 1950

A few days after I finished reading it, I wrote about what I found special in the book.   To my surprise, the author, Bo Burlingham,  liked the post enough to comment on it.   That’s how it all started.

Thanks to Bo (@BoBurlingham) and the generosity of the Small Giants Community (@smallgiantsbuzz), I’m happy to announce that we’ll be giving away up to 10 signed copies of the book. All you have to do is be one of the first 10 people to explain the kind of Small Giant you want to be. (Update:  we decided to do away with the word count to encourage a broader level of participation.  Now you can use as many or as few words as you want.)


If you’re not sure of what to write, this post I wrote is a good place to start: The American Beauty of Small Giants.

Add your Small Giant declaration as a comment to this post or write about it in your own blog and post the link as a comment.  Then email me your mailing address at  You’ll get a confirmation email from the folks at the Small Giants Community, and then your signed copy will be on its way.

Since Bo and the Small Giants Community have been gracious enough to give us a few copies, I want to help them out as well.  It would be nice if we could give them a few comments that they could use to further promote their book, but if you object to your words being used in that way, then please state as much in your comments.

We’ll still send you a book.  Our primary goal is to promote a discussion of principles, and we want to hear about your Small Giants vision regardless of how you feel about publicity.

I don’t expect that this will be an issue, but I reserve the right to make ineligible any comment that isn’t relevant.  We want to make sure the books will go to those who will value them.  Just write honestly, and you’ll be fine.

David – Donatello, 1466


Whoever writes the most compelling declaration will get a book that isn’t just signed; It’ll also have a personalized message from the author. Now you have even more of an incentive to write something great.

I wouldn’t be doing this promotion if I didn’t believe that the Small Giants book can help you do what you do in a more soulful way, whether you’re a small business owner, a creative type, a volunteer, a young employee, or a seasoned big-business executive.

The Cyclops – Odilon Redon, 1914


As if that weren’t enough, I happen to believe that the book offers the perspectives that can help America grow stronger. Hint: they’ve got nothing to do with too-big-to-fail thinking.

If you like what you read in the book and want to surround yourself with other like-minded individuals, then you might want to take a look at Small Giants Community.  They’re a friendly group of people from what I’ve seen, and they might offer you just the support you need to become the Small Giant you want to be.

Peasant Wedding Feast – Pieter Bruegel, 1569


The Small Giant I want to be:

In case you need an example to get you started, here’s my take:

No one has ever called me a pillar of the community. It’s not that I blame them. In the past, I’ve been a little abrasive in stating my thoughts or trying to get things done.

A supervisor at work once tried to put a positive spin on that. In my evaluation, he wrote something like, “Nick is quick to point out ways in which we can improve.”  What a diplomat he was!

To my regret, I’ve also been involved in projects where I burned bridges just  by dealing incorrectly with the stresses at hand.  I didn’t want to be that guy.  I just never planned for anything better, and anything goes when you don’t have a plan.

The Red Tower – Giorgio de Chirico, 1913


That’s a glimpse at who I was, but that’s not how I want to leave this world.  I want to become a person of character who inspires my fellow Americans with my creative endeavors. Ideally that will also involve some aspect of filmmaking, since the movies have been an important, often hopeful, part of my life since I was a kid.

Having an audience appreciate my work would be nice, but it would be a greater honor if other artists and technicians wanted to work with me based on my reputation for treating people right.

Yeah, someday I would like to be pillar of the community, like those old-world men I’ve admired from a distance, the ones whom others trust when a crisis strikes, the ones who instill integrity in others by the strength of their character.

I want the people with whom I work to go forth and do greater things when they leave my company, because I helped them learn, gave them freedom to discover their own sensibilities, and nurtured their capacities for excellence.

I’m not there yet.  There are still parts of me that God and I are trying to polish, but that’s why I’m still a work in progress.  Anyway, that’s the Small Giant I want to be someday.  How about you?

Aurora Borealis – Frederic Church, 1865


(If you’ve enjoyed reading this post or some of the others I’ve written, consider signing up to get my posts by email.  You can do that by clicking here.  I don’t write every week.  I only write when I have something worth writing and after I’ve spent some time considering my subject and finessing my thoughts.  If you’re following along by email, you’ll know right away when I have a new post waiting for you, whether that’s next week or a month from now.)


28 Responses to “The Small Giants We Want to Be”

  1. 1 Tim Sisson July 21, 2010 at 6:42 am

    Interestingly, I’ve spent my life taking from my community in a self absorbed, even reckless manner. After a while, and years of mindless consumption, my head has partly cleared. Partly because I found that I’m not the center of the universe, and there is something far greater than myself. This was a lesson learned, in part, by having offspring.

    So I find myself older and wanting to leave something greater then myself behind, a legacy of sorts. What I’ve come to realize is that it’s not how much work I do, but the actual quality of the work that I produce. I want to be a “small giant” in my community, a force changing the lives around me.

    I guess, to have the chance for other people to see me as the normal guy so faced adversity(for those of you who don’t know me, a reckless heroin addiction) and came out the other side, alive (and in terms of addiction, that’s on top). And really just for others to see this, and say, “I can do that too!”

    I once heard the best form of flattery is imitation, and it’s true!

  2. 3 Jeffrey Jasper July 21, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    We have also tried to stand out in the crowded VFX industry. Where is is common to work slavishly we try and keep artists on a 40 hour work week so they don’t get burned out. We also consider environment part of our responsibility. It is easy to be wasteful in the film industry. We have reduced our renderfarm energy consumption while actually increasing it’s output. We recycle as much as possible including sets and models so we are not just filling up dumpsters with waste. In general the Google mantra of “Do no evil” should apply and we work to fulfill that.

    I see an industry that is heading towards self destruction through how it treats is most valuable asset, the artist, in the name of short term profits. You have the industrial revolution combined with the globalization movement of the IT industry combined into one massive spurt of change in VFX.

    We want to rail out against that change. Artists are not a commodity to be used up and spit out then replaced by slave labor. What you end up with is unhealthy cheap trinkets of little to no value. We what to support the artistry that elevates people to an experience that moves them and makes them think. Artists are as important as the high profile star in making the movie experience shine. Artists range from writers, to SFX and VFX artists to the people on set making sure the lighting and design is all perfect. Just as much as a poor performance from an actor can take us out of a story, bad effects, bad design, bad scripts do as well.

    If we commoditize everything down to maximize profits over everything else we will never get out of the downward spiral that we are in. It may take a revolution in breaking away from controlling studios and alternative distribution. But more so it means a break from values that treat people as expendables and is willing to look the other way from human rights abuse.

    We hope we can survive and even thrive by going against the grain. Only time will tell if it pays off, even if it doesn’t we will all feel better that we tried to build up instead of destroy our way to success.

  3. 5 Aaron McWilliams July 22, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    70% of an adult’s waking hours are spent on the job. As a Human Resources Professional, I have the ability to let managers take take advantage of all those hours to suck up their last bit of life to bring in another dollar. Or, I can help guide an organization to make this the best 70% of their life that they could live, all while getting paid for it.

    I have a long way to go. But people are worth it. No matter what company I spend my 70% at, I want to spend it investing in people’s lives, making them better employees and more fulfilled persons of society. Like Stephen Covey’s 8th habit, I want to find my voice and help others find their’s. We all need a reason to live, and wasting away on a job is not that. Hearing about the Small Giants exhilarates me to see how I can make a company such a great place to work. That’s the impact I want to have on people.

    • 6 Bo Burlingham August 9, 2010 at 1:34 am

      Hi, Aaron. That’s an inspiring goal. Do you work for a company now, or are you looking? Can you give us a few more details?

      Cheers, Bo

      • 7 Aaron McWilliams August 9, 2010 at 10:27 pm

        Hey Bo, honored you’ve taken the time to read our comments.

        Yes, I’m already working at a 125-yr. old company of about 135 employees. Been there about 3 years and still trying to figure out how to make it a better place for our employees. It’s a really good company, but there’s still more greatness to be had. We just got some employee survey results back that are honestly, not as I had hoped to see, so I’m excited about doing some employee roundtables (starting tomorrow)to find out what we’re missing.

        Strange enough, I’m also getting lunch with the VP of HR at Beryl tomorrow for lunch. I’m looking forward to getting all the help I can from you all that are doing it right.

        Still trucking, Aaron

  4. 8 Jennifer Hart July 24, 2010 at 11:25 am

    When I switched careers from Technical Writing to Education at the age of 37, I had a great, hopeful vision for the future. I wanted to be one of the many caring, intelligent adults who guide our youth into productive adulthood. I was stoked to create a new sort of classroom that incorporated everything we’re discovering about how people actually learn.

    Unfortunately, for all of my skilled, excellent colleagues, the Education field is rife with scoundrels, politics, and unbelievably poor leadership. Creativity is quelched in order to create “a consistent classroom experience.” I come away from meetings and training events feeling bitter and resentful.

    Resentment is not the quality I want to pass on to my students. The Small Giant I wish to be is a skilled educator who finds ways to work excellence within a very flawed system. Many of my students are raised in violence, poverty, and neglect. For their sakes, I must learn how to rise above pettiness, bullying, and “abuse” to be a woman of character and kindness–so they can, as well.

  5. 10 Michael Stafford July 24, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    I want to be a good father.

    • 11 Bo Burlingham August 9, 2010 at 1:23 am

      Hi, Michael. As a father and a grandfather, I hear you, but I’m wondering if you couldn’t tell us a little more about yourself and what you mean by that.

      Cheers, Bo

      • 12 Michael Stafford August 9, 2010 at 9:29 am

        Hi Bo,

        Sure I can expand on my comment some and give you some personal details.

        I’ve been self employed for 17 years now. I am a multimedia producer and create mostly technical 3D animation for industrial clients. I’d like to think that I’ve lasted this long because I’ve always given my customers 110%, but maybe its just shear brute force of will. When I first got going, I worked incredible hours, 15 hours a day, 7 days a week for the first 5 years. As a result my family life suffered and my first marriage ended in divorce.

        Now I’m happily remarried and have a 20 month old daughter. Being self employed I still sometimes work crazy hours, but my client base is more diverse now, so occasionally I do have downtime.

        In the past I usually spent this downtime researching new technology and techniques to keep my game in top form. Now that I’m a father, however, I like to spend that time with my family.

        So when I read the title to your book, for me the first thing that jumped into my head was that even though I don’t have alot of co-workers or employees around me that I can influence directly, I do have someone who I can be a huge influence on and thus become a Small Giant in her eyes and for society as well as she grows up and starts to contribute in her own way.

        Maybe not exactly the spirit of the book (since I think its more geared toward business), but its what the title “spoke” to me.

  6. 13 Kristen July 28, 2010 at 11:18 am

    As a young person in a young marriage on the cusp of the rest of our lives, we want to be Small Giants as we make decisions in our careers. We are entrepreneurs at heart, and right now Tyler is learning the ropes of management with an eye to apply those skills and values in the best possible manner. We have decided to cap our living expenses and as we begin to earn more, give the rest away. It’s been a life-giving experience so far!

  7. 15 Bill Armstrong July 31, 2010 at 7:07 am

    I am reading Small Giants during my breaks at work. I an a machine operator in Virginia Beach. I’m going to recomend that the owner of the company read it too. Then I’m going to figure out how to use the principals in my other job as an actor!

    • 16 Bo Burlingham August 9, 2010 at 1:31 am

      Hi, Bill. I’m curious as to what, if anything, you’re getting out of the book both as an actor and as a machine operator in a small to midsize business. (If you know the owner, it pretty much has to be).

      Cheers, Bo

      • 17 Bill Armstrong August 9, 2010 at 6:35 am

        I see a few of the positive things in the book in action at my “day job” as a machine operator. Especially the need to make a quality product. The company I work for makes welding torches, welding torch tips, gas regulators, gas distribution equipment, etc. From what I know of the company’s history, It was started as a small concern with stock held by the original start up people. Now they have sites world wide, but here we still have that small company feel. I plan on recommending the owner read the book with an open mind. Then we may be able to rid the company of some of it’s antiquated and draconian rules. We’ll see.

        As an actor, I still see the need of “quality product”, and the most important part being reliability. It’s very important to be able to give the “consumer” (directors/producers) what they’ve paid for on time and w/in budget.

        Well, time to hop on the Harley and get to the day job.

        Thanks for the query,

        Bill Armstrong

  8. 18 Donna Todd August 4, 2010 at 1:40 am

    Years ago, I worked at a print shop and often, I would overhear the owner, Danny, say to a customer, “You can have it cheap, fast or done right. Pick two.” If they picked the first two, he would hint that maybe they should consider one of the quick print places available in town.

    Today, that print shop is still going strong. I think it’s all because of Danny’s leadership. His motto is that his company’s name is printed on every piece, in invisible ink. And his concern for quality is infectious. Everyone who works for him goes to great lengths to do their very best.

    I would still be working for him, if my life choices hadn’t caused me to relocate. Now, I take what I’ve learned from Danny and apply it to my own entrepreneurial endeavors.

    • 19 Bo Burlingham August 9, 2010 at 1:38 am

      What a great tribute to your former boss, Donna. Have you told him how you feel? What entrepreneurial endeavors are you pursuing?

      Cheers, Bo

      • 20 Donna Todd August 11, 2010 at 11:14 pm

        Hi Bo,

        Okay, I’ll be honest, I started laughing when I read your first question. Yes, I’ve told my previous boss what I think of him, each time I’ve been able to visit his shop (which is, unfortunately, typically only once a year), but Danny doesn’t normally give me the chance to speak first. For the last 10 years, every time I’ve walked into the print shop, he has jumped up from his desk, hugged me and said, “Hi Donna! Have you moved back to the area? We’d love for you to come back to work!” So, I think the feeling is mutual.

        To answer your question regarding entrepreneurial pursuits, I am a freelance graphic designer. Most of the time, I work alone, but often, I work with an illustrator, a web designer or other graphic designers on various projects. We have used those collaborations to promote each person’s talents. Things have not panned out as planned, but we continue to move forward. Maybe our problem is that we haven’t worked out the timing needed to follow another bit of advice from Danny: “Promote or advertise when you are your busiest, because it takes a while for it to have an effect. And, that way, when the workload starts slowing down, the phone will start ringing with new work.”

        I really appreciate your inquiries and comments, plus all the comments by others on this blog about the Small Giants they know. I look forward to reading your book.

        Thanks again,

  9. 21 Jesse Kakstys August 8, 2010 at 12:03 am

    I am immediately reminded of a company I used to be an engineer for. While they had no qualms about throwing vast amounts of money into marketing, they refused to spend on innovation. This particular company had a group of very talented engineers working for them that had developed some truly revolutionary technologies. However, thinking solely of the bottom line, the majority of R&D’s time was spent attempting to do cost reductions (and subsequently resolving issues that arose from said cost reductions).

    Now don’t get me wrong, MCR can be a good thing as it can be environmentally friendly and make manufacturing more efficient. But neither the quality of your product nor your consumers’ perception should ever be compromised in the name of profit. This fact had much to do with me leaving the company.

    I am now working towards starting my own product design company. The Small Giant I want to be is one that works for my employees, not vice versa. I feel that by considering the needs of my employees, I can enable them to work at their highest potential, consequently allowing them to exceed customer expectations and truly deliver value to the consumer. Company profits should always reflect the quality of goods and services provided, not the ability to increase margins.

  10. 23 Sal August 8, 2010 at 11:39 pm

    I can relate to the challenges facing young entrepreneurs as I was once one of them. I started my first business at the age of 21 and now I am one week away from my 52nd birthday, and I have not worked for anyone but myself for over 30 years. In that time I have started, built up, and sold several companies, and still own a few, ranging from construction to real estate to restaurants.

    • 24 Bo Burlingham August 9, 2010 at 1:42 am

      Congratulations, Sal. Can you tell us a little more about some of the companies you’ve started? Any one in particular that you’re most proud of? Were they small giants?

      Cheers, Bo

  11. 25 Bo Burlingham August 9, 2010 at 1:45 am

    Thank you all for commenting. I’d like to hear a little more from some of you, as noted, but overall I’d say that Nick has a pretty great group of people reading his blog.

    Cheers, Bo

    • 26 Nick Savides August 13, 2010 at 12:39 am

      This whole Small Giants endeavor went so much better than anything I could have imagined. Thank you all for sharing your perspectives in such an honest and big-hearted way.

      I’m encouraged when I read about people who aim for more than just a paycheck with their careers. I think most of us want to do meaningful things at work, but if we’re not careful financial pressures or personal struggles can cloud out those inclinations.

      No matter how frantic things get, I hope you’ll remember the ideals you’ve articulated here. I know I will remember your words whenever I’m discouraged, whenever I start to suspect that everyone is just in it for the money.

      From my own personal struggles to become a man of character, I know a little about how hard it is to live up to the values that define our hopes and dreams. I’m not where I want to be just yet, but I’m still fighting to get there, and your stories have made it a little easier for me to keep fighting. Thanks for that.

      I want to also express gratitude to Bo Burlingham and the Small Giants Community. When I first mentioned the book promotion idea to Bo, I figured that it would take weeks to happen, if it happened at all, and that I would have to talk to the marketing department and the legal department and all kinds of other departments that I don’t even know about. Fortunately, that’s not how it went at all.

      In about a week, Bo put me in touch with Glenn, someone involved with the Small Giants Community who could make the idea happen. I explained my ideas, and then I was given freedom to structure and promote the book giveaway as I found appropriate. If you’ve ever tried to work together with other business entities, then you know that’s not how it usually goes.

      I’m not a superstar blogger, and I told Bo and Glenn about the kinds of numbers I usually get on my posts, but they didn’t care. That helped to convince me that they’re not in it for the stats; They’re so committed to promoting the Small Giants ethos that they’ll even consider what a guy like me has to offer.

      Here’s more proof: After reading the comments, Bo generously offered to write a personalized message on the free books we’ll be sending everyone. The man is the editor of Inc. Magazine, so it’s not like he has lots of extra time to kill, but he believes in what he advocates enough to go the extra mile.

      Thanks again to Bo, to the Small Giants Community, and to everyone who participated. You believed in me and in the values I’m striving to support, and that meant a lot to me. I hope that you all will enjoy the book and find inspiration from it as much as I did.


      • 27 Bo Burlingham August 28, 2010 at 2:27 am

        It’s taking longer than I hoped and expected to get the books and send them off, but don’t worry: We haven’t forgotten, and you will all get signed copies.

        Cheers, Bo

  12. 28 parmanifesto August 28, 2010 at 12:19 am

    I am so stupidly proud of you and happy for you!

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