Thinking Small Hurts

Today I ran some letters to the post office. And lucky for me, a sign on the outside boxes kindly reminded that the rate, as of May 14th, goes up to 41 cents for a 1st class stamp. Cursing my poor memory (I heard about the change last Wednesday), I marched into the post office wearing my work day grubbies and applied the needed one-cent stamps.

I can’t decide which is more frustrating: that I remember the days when stamps cost a quarter, or that we keep futzing around with penny price increases. And now, the post office has taken on the role of a warehouse club.

“If it could ring, it would resonate freedom and independence from using one or two-cent stamps to mail letters when stamp prices change in the future. The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) today introduced its latest consumer innovation by dedicating the Forever Stamp next to the patriotic icon it depicts. Featuring the Liberty Bell image and the word “forever,” the Forever Stamp — available nationwide today — is good for mailing one-ounce First-Class Mail letters anytime in the future — regardless of price changes.” (link)

What promotes this type of small thinking cloaked as a revolution? Why isn’t the post office thinking beyond future penny increases? This program seems a pale imitation of Amazon’s Prime Program that, for a yearly fee, allows for free two-day shipping. (link)

Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, had to weigh the potential—shoppers buying more frequently and making larger purchases because of convenience—over the risk of the guy who only spends $10. By thinking big with programs like Prime, Amazon has seen a resurgence.

Net sales increased 32% to $3.02 billion in the first quarter, compared with $2.28 billion in first quarter 2006.” (link)

And Amazon isn’t done thinking big. In spite of critics, Amazon continues to push into areas it believes hold value. According to Bezos,

“we’re trying to leverage an existing asset, skill or competency—something we think we’re really good at. So while these businesses are different, they aid each other. We cannot operate our consumer business without these pieces of Web-scale infrastructure.” (link)

When organizations and individuals think small, they miss opportunities. Amazon isn’t the only company to get it right. Apple thought big with the iPod. But whether the iPhone proves equally big is still a question mark. Individuals and companies will not always succeed at thinking big. In fact, failure can be the catalyst for the biggest ideas of all.

Few people are blessed with the genius that repeatedly strikes gold every single time. For most of us, success requires a willingness to think, to scheme, and to hope. Thomas Edison performed thousands of experiments (the actual number is in some dispute) before he found a way to make the incandescent light a viable option for the masses.

Hell, there are no rules here – we’re trying to accomplish something,” said Edison. (link) Along the way, Edison came up with the phonograph and the Kinetoscope. In total, Edison received 1,093 U.S. patents. (link)

Back to the post office. We still rely on snail mail even in an increasingly digital world. Why not think big and find a way to combine the two worlds? When you limit your thinking to pennies and price club tactics, you limit your options, even if you’re a monopoly. Edison points out that, “if we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.” (link) I think it’s past time that the post office astounded itself.



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May 2007
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