The Goldilocks Principle: Why your strategy should be "just right"

Malcolm White
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Too big? Too small? no: "just right" (Source: Getty)

You'd expect the founder of astrobiology, the science that explores whether human life can be supported in space, to have a suitably impressive monicker and Herr Professor Doktor Hubertus Strughold certainly doesn’t disappoint.

Strughold was one among many scientists secretly spirited out of Nazi Germany to the States after the Second World War as part of “Operation Paperclip” to help America compete in the Space Race.

Planets and porridge

Among Strughold’s many significant contributions to astrobiology were his ideas about how to measure a planet’s suitability to sustain human life, which later came to be christened after the famous Goldilocks and the Three Bears nursery story. The Goldilocks Principle is that a planet must be neither too close nor too far away from a star, but “just right”, in order to support life. If you were to find yourself on a planet at either of the extremities even “Beam me up, Scotty” on speed dial wouldn’t help.

What was just right for astrobiology has turned out to be just right for other activities too, because the Goldilocks Principle is sometimes used to describe certain, sector-specific, circumstances. It’s invoked in medicine to measure the performance of drugs, and in economics and monetary policy a Goldilocks economy is one that sustains both moderate growth and low inflation.

But the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears could, and should, have a much bigger impact on the world of business than just the description of phenomena. In fact, by taking the story to heart in our adult, professional, lives as much as some of us did in our childhoods, we could put more things into perspective and into proportion.

Big isn’t necessarily better

In business, big is always thought of as inevitably better. The bigger the deal the better. The bigger the profit the better. Also, it seems, the bigger the debt the better. In the marketing and communications sector we’ve even coined the phrase “The Big Idea” to describe what’s really valuable about our communications recommendations.

The power of “big”, whether in the guise of the Big Idea or some other neologism, works like a Big Black Hole at the heart of business. It sucks everything and everyone towards it, so that resistance is futile. That’s why challenging bigness casts anyone who does so in the role of mealy-mouthed advocate of weedy, small ideas. Small ideas simply don’t sound as good, or as big.

Doing business the Goldilocks way

Of course, Goldilocks wasn’t a fan of small either (in the form of chairs) but she did show us the just right way forward. Let’s follow her lead and start doing just right by our businesses.

As business owners let’s articulate just right objectives and excise that terrible Big Hairy Audacious Goals nomenclature from the consultants’ recommendations. Let’s push further for the just right strategy and avoid being bedazzled by one that is “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

Let’s look askance at big innovations and prioritise just right initiatives grounded in consumer need not manufacturer capability. And, in marketing and advertising, instead of being beguiled by the Big Idea, let’s start developing, and choosing, Just Right Ideas. These would be more appropriate for brands and more relevant to their audiences than either the big, or the small, varieties.

We all know what Goldilocks would think about that.

Malcolm White is a founder of Krow, the independent communications agency.

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