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Big Think Strategy by Bernd H. Schmitt

Big Think Strategy: How to Leverage Bold Ideas and Leave Small Thinking Behind

By Bernd H. Schmitt
Harvard Business School Press, 2007

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Big Think Strategy is an enjoyable, easy-to-read book that pushes for organizations to be bold in making changes. Arguing against incrementalism,[1] a method of adding to a project using many small (often unplanned) changes instead of a few (extensively planned) large jumps, the author believes that organizations must make bold, large moves to be successful in today’s business environment.

Author Bernd Schmitt uses familiar and less familiar examples to demonstrate his ideas of “big think” and “small think.” “Big think” refers to large, bold ideas to create change and value creation; “small think” references incremental changes or status quo planning and budgeting. He encourages readers to “think out of the box” by using examples that are “big” although not necessarily related to business, for example, rebuilding New Orleans to make lower level districts into parks that would serve as flood basins, the development of Wikipedia, the Trojan Horse, and the development of a perfect ice cube in a bar in Tokyo.

Schmitt follows a standard approach of addressing both strategy formulation and implementation in his book. He details a framework to for his ideas and illustrates them in three rings (inner, middle and outer). The inner ring is concerned with leveraging bold ideas and fighting “small think.” Four areas are reviewed including sourcing, evaluating, strategizing, and executing. The middle ring covers leading; having an agenda; using guts, passion, and perseverance; and moving in different circles. The outer ring covers the topics of organized stimulation, work/play balance, interdisciplinary mind set, entrepreneurial spirit, sustaining, and his self-titled concept, “Big Thinky Heads.” (According to the author, a “Big Thinky Head” maintains the belief that any big problem can be solved.)

Similar ideas to those in Big Think Strategy have been proposed by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne in Blue Ocean Strategy,[2] and by Gary Hamel in Leading the Revolution[3] and The Future of Management[4]. His “think small” concept is reminiscent of Donald Sull’s book, Why Good Companies Go Bad[5] in which Sull suggests some of the same problems identified by Schmitt.

The book is only 159 pages and provides concepts that are easy to follow and stimulate the imagination and is worthwhile for the reader’s next airplane ride.


[1] James Brian Quinn. Strategies for Change, Logical Incrementalism, (Homewood, IL: Irwin, 1980).

[2] Kim, W. Chan and Renée Mauborgne. Blue Ocean Strategy, (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation, 2005).

[3] Gary Hamel. Leading the Revolution, (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2002).

[4] Gary Hamel with Bill Breen. The Future of Management, (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2007). Read the GBR review of this book

[5] Donald N. Sull. Why Good Companies Go Bad and How Great Managers Remake Them, (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2005).

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