How Small Wins: Lessons from Ninjas

This is a piece I wrote and was published on PR Tips for Startups - a website that shares useful insights for startups and small businesses.

I’ve just finished reading Guy Shapiro’s Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of Successful Businesses – it is a brilliant book that draws on the stealthy qualities that make up a ninja, and how those qualities are necessary for today’s entrepreneur.

Ninjas, covert mercenaries of feudal Japan, specialized in unconventional warfare that made folks stay in awe of them. Shapiro draws from the qualities of these daredevils and cleverly juxtaposes them with how modern and successful entrepreneurs are ninjas.

Though Shapiro did not allude to the size of businesses that need to embrace ninja qualities, small businesses are particularly primed to exhibit these traits.

Call it David taking on Goliath, or any of the new allusions that are used these days, but it’s really the age of the Davids.

Examples are now everywhere on how seemingly hapless institutions that are only armed with good ideas and clever implementations, and – if you may – an immeasurable amount of insanity, are taking on established and powerful institutions. And winning.

Admittedly, there are downsides to being small; it makes one an unlikely candidate for a disruptive mission. But there lies the fun. The smart entrepreneur admits this shortcoming and devises clever ways to survive.

Disruption is the mission

With just few resources at his or her disposal, small is taking on a mission that calls for a lot of imagination. Limited on resources but high on imagination, you’re a disruptor, and you’re possibly taking on one that’s high on resources (mostly having all the money and a legacy business model) but low on imagination – the ‘about-to-be-disrupted’. Other things may fail, but not a strong imagination that understands how to put pieces together with much flair and skill. The journey requires that you break the rules and establish a new order. A healthy dose of imagination is a necessity.

A killer idea

There has to be a compelling idea – one that promises something new. New doesn’t necessarily mean non-existent; it could be a small augmentation of an existing product (or service), or a pruning down of an existing one into a more manageable size for a once overwhelmed consumer. It may be an evolution of sorts that an existing organization is oblivious to, but which the smart small guy implements better to render the big guy obsolete. Without a good idea, everything else is useless. The only way to win is to do something your opponent does not expect, “You must innovate or die.”

Ninjas are resilient

This is a prerequisite for survival. There will be challenges that will push one to give up and question the notion of one’s existence but the small guy takes it in, summoning up as much muscle as possible to weather any condition, however unbearable. Risk is inevitable. There are records of ninjas staying up all nights in enemy quarters, brazing the most discomfiting weather and physical conditions.

Oh, you’ll need a strike force: a team of committed daredevils who also understand the risk at stake and are consumed by the adventure and the waiting glory. Build the right team.

The goal is victory and so adaptability is important. Innovation is happening at a maddening rate, and with that comes the need to withstand its surge and adapt accordingly. Technology is pushing humanity forward like never before and mounting pressures on long tested traditions.

Markets are not exempted

Businesses are being forced to take chances in order to survive. Here’s where the small guy comes in with his unique ability to be flexible. He doesn’t crave consistency. He fully understands the changing nature of the new world.

As Shapiro said: it takes a rare kind of vision to spot opportunities, a rare courage to pursue them, and a uniquely skilled team to succeed.

Hello, David.