The Fish And The Whale Argument: Observations On Business Decision Flexibility

I’ve ordered a book on Amazon from a “reseller” and the order delivery date was within 2 months! The book took a few weeks to be collected from the reseller in the US and a couple of weeks in a DHL distribution center in Denmark and another couple of weeks in Dubai before they somehow lost my address and returned it to the reseller.

I’ve contacted the reseller to inquire about the status of delivery and I received a message that there’s still 2 weeks in the due date and I should still expect delivery of the book.

Yes, exactly what you thought, it makes no sense.

But this is the difference between running a small business, a mom & pop shop as they call it, versus the systemized business operations of a huge business conglomerate.

When you’re a small business owner, business decisions are fast, changes are prompt, adaptation to the status quo is second-nature.

When you’re a big business, you literally don’t have such luxuries, and you’re forced to automate, systemize, and create policies to react to every single decision, variable, problem, and error.

It’s basically being a small fish swiftly changing direction versus a huge whale that needs to move massive tons of flesh and bone in wide circles, living in the deep of the ocean and occasionally surfacing for air.

I can’t help but form the analogy with that really wonderful Nora Ephron movie “You’ve Got Mail” starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

Ryan was the owner of a small corner book shop that was struggling against the creeping of big chain bookstores business owned by Tom Hanks’s character. The big bookstore chain was able through well-organized and systemized business dealings to kill the small book store with extremely competitive pricing which drove away customers from the comparatively overpriced small shop.

Of course, Amazon came along a few years later and killed all of those mega book-chains as well. A big whale ate the big fish that ate the small fish.

The lesson here is not that being small is preferable to being a big business, because it isn’t this black and white. There are pros and cons to each business model.

The case could be made for the advantages of both.
For a small business, you can offer more outstanding and personalized customer service. You can curate your product to a niche clientele. You can charge higher premiums especially if you’re offering creative and one-of products or services.
But this makes you vulnerable when big players move in on your business and offer it to a wider audience at scale with extremely competitive prices, even though the quality of your competitors’ products or services itself might suffer, but you’re getting killed with the economy of scale bulldozer.
For a big business, the money is staggering and quite mind-numbing. It makes the business decision process complicated and cumbersome. There’s a huge number of employees in a complicated hierarchy and quite a vast network of contractors and suppliers who depend on you to keep a hugely profitable business model stable and steady for a very long time.
It makes the whole thing literally supported by many roots in the business community and government, and “too big to fail.” But it also makes the whole business ripe for disruption by a hip new garage-based software company that leverages its proprietary code into a brand new model that uproots the old giant.
I know if there was an issue with delivery with a local bookstore, and something got lost in the mail, I can definitely get the whole thing sorted in less than 24 hrs.

But when I’m dealing with the Amazon behemoth and its unfathomably complicated network of resellers who use the FBA business model, the wide network of courier services that navigate my product around the globe to hand it out to a local courier service that will pick it up and deliver it to me, and the outsourced customer support teams that handle my problems based on a set of support policies, many things could go wrong at random.

There are simply too many moving parts involved and with such an intricate, usually well-oiled machine, patience is my best friend.

I can also joke that this little book of mine had more fun hopping around the US, Europe, and the Middles East in 2 months more than I had ever had the pleasure in my entire life.

Good for you my nice little book, good for you. We might not eventually meet, I might have to get a refund for not being able to meet you, but it was nice waiting for you to drop by. Maybe your friend the other copy I might really get will have a shorter trip to my doorstep.

And who knows, perhaps the next company that gets acquired by Amazon is a global autonomous book printing service that simply prints the book locally from the original copyrighted digital file and delivers it to the buyer in less than 24 hrs, making it closer to being ordered locally from your city’s bookstore, albeit not as instant as getting the Kindle version on your smartphone.

Actually, it could be Amazon itself that sells people an Amazon Book printer that is connected to the Amazon infinite library that can instantly printout a paperback in the comfort of your own home.

Or we could all get past the ridiculous charade of country storefronts and the annoying message “The Kindle title is not currently available for purchase” which is either a country-store restriction or a seller restriction and allow people to buy the damn e-book for the listed price from anywhere in the world like we all expect it anyways.



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