Small Is Powerful

By Adam Lent

Find out why the era of big government, big business & big culture is over

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Publication date: June 2016

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How can we create a wealthier, fairer and more stable world? Politicians tell us that we must rely either on big business or big government or, more often than not, both. This is a terrible failure of imagination that ends up keeping the very people and organisations in charge that delivered the most serious economic crisis in eighty years.

Small is Powerful will reveal how our faith in big business, big government and big culture was manufactured in the 1900s by a group of powerful business leaders, politicians and thinkers and how it had a forceful grip on our world throughout the twentieth century.

Even if our political leaders are still in thrall to the 'big consensus' of the last century, a small revolution is already underway. Millions are choosing to set up their own small business rather than work for a giant corporation. Political and social change is increasingly delivered by many small initiatives and campaigns rather than big parties. And, more than ever, people make their own decisions about how to live their lives rather than accepting the rulings of big religious and civil organisations.

Small is Powerful argues that the small revolution must be embraced. A world where power and resources are shared out much more widely will deliver the fairer, stabler, wealthier world we want.

But it is a revolution under threat. Business, politicians and those who think they know best how we should live are fighting back. Small is Powerful is an impassioned plea for 'smallists' everywhere to stand up and be counted.

You can find a full chapter outline here.

[Thanks to Etsy and Impact Hub for additional footage.]


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  • Adam Lent avatar

    Adam Lent

    Adam Lent is the Director of the RSA's Action and Research Centre or ARC. The RSA encourages creativity in business, education and public services and is world famous for its RSA Animate series. ARC publishes over forty reports a year, hundreds of blogs and tests numerous innovations for the RSA.

    Before joining the RSA, Adam was Head of Economics at the UK's Trades Union Congress. That job might lead you to think that Adam has a history as a left-leaning activist, political adviser and writer. You wouldn't be wrong but since the 2008 Crash, he has found himself increasingly frustrated by all points on the political spectrum. It was that frustration that led him to start the research for Small is Powerful.

    Adam writes a widely read blog for the RSA and has written (and ghost written) many newspaper, on-line and journal articles over the years on everything from the future of coal to the very slow death of political parties.

  • The notion that it was good to have vast concentrations of political power in the state, economic power in large corporations and social power in religious and civil bodies dominated the greater part of the Twentieth Century. This ‘big consensus’ was forged in the late 1800s, grew in influence during the first two decades of the twentieth century and then fundamentally shaped government, business and society from the thirties onwards.

    During the 1970s tiny cracks in this consensus began to open up. Thinkers who had been questioning big power for years began to get noticed and small groups of entrepreneurs and campaigners challenged social conformity and pushed back against the dominance of corporations and government.

    This was not a unified movement by any means. These ‘smallists’ knew little of each other and would have disagreed on a great deal had they met but in their own spheres they were striking blows against the big consensus in ways which were to have great consequences for the revival of a small outlook in the Twenty-first century.

  • Adam Lent has written 4 private updates. You can pledge to get access to them all.

    25th January 2016 We need innovations that empower billions to solve the problems of the tech revolution

    Mass empowerment is a central them of Small is Powerful. Here's an article I wrote about empowerment and the Fourth Industrial Revolution - an idea that played a big part at the annual Davos meeting last week. I hope you like it and as ever feel free to comment.

    20th January 2016 The Incoherence of the Inequality Debate

    Some of you may have noticed Oxfam's report a couple of days back claiming that just 62 people own as much wealth as half the world's population. As equality and the odd way we think about it is a big theme of Small is Powerful I wrote a post responding to the report and the people who have criticised it. You can find it here. I hope you like it.

    18th January 2016 Small is Powerful: What next?

    So the manuscript is in and being copy edited. I can't deny it's been very hard work and taken a lot longer than expected. I have discovered that combining the writing of a book with a full time job (changing full time jobs, in fact) while being Dad to a young family is not something to be taken on lightly. Who knew?

    Anyway now I am free of the drafting and looking forward to publication later…

    15th December 2014 Video talk on Small is Powerful

    I gave a lecture on Small is Powerful at the RSA a couple of weeks ago. It is now up on YouTube and lasts just over twenty minutes. You can find it here. Enjoy.




    6th December 2014 Target met! Now I've just got to write the book!

    A very big thank-you to all the people who helped me reach the funding target for Small is Powerful. You have all been incredibly generous in your support and in your faith in my ability to write something worth reading.

    Now I have to get on with it, I guess. However, I don't plan to disappear into a garret for the next few months. I will keep posting here as the research and writing progresses…

    29th November 2014 The technology and the appetite is now here to build a small, decentralised, flat and free world

    Maybe we will look back and see this as one of history’s great coincidences: Henry Ford’s first Model T was manufactured in October 1908; exactly one-hundred years later Bitcoin was launched in October 2008. What’s the coincidence, you may ask.

    The Model T paved the way for mass production which underpinned the creation of the vast, centralised and hierarchical corporations that came to dominate…

    7th November 2014 Does Bitcoin spell the end for big government and big business?

    I have just read Bitcoin: The Future of Money by Dominic Frisby published by Unbound. I read it in one sitting. It is a fantastic and fascinating book.

    Dominic makes a compelling case that Bitcoin, or more likely one of its cryptocurrency cousins, spells the end for big government. 

    He makes the point that the huge expansion of the state in the last century was funded through taxation, borrowing…

    30th October 2014 Can big organisatons survive the era of small?

    I had an article published in the London business paper City AM today. It's here. The article is pretty much a summary of the key themes of Small is Powerful but one issue I cover at the end is how larger organisations, particularly corporations, might have to change to respond to the rise of smaller organisations and networks. It's a theme I'll return to in the book and here in my Unbound 'shed'…

    20th October 2014 What would the man who inspired Small is Powerful make of the modern world?

    If you read the excerpt from Small is Powerful published on this site, you'll know how important E.F. Scumacher is as an inspiration for the book. Even the title is an homage to his popular work Small is Beautiful.

    So I was really pleased to be asked to write a post about the great man for The Schumacher Institute. You can find it here.

    I do hope he wouldn't be offended but I've been arrogant…

    19th October 2014 Four BIG reasons why SMALL business is powerful

    A quick link to a blog post with the above title which I wrote a couple of days ago for Etsy. Etsy is a very succesful on-line marketplace for arts and crafts micro-businesses and it could easily be a case study itself in how small is discovering new sources of power in the 21st Century. The post seems to have generated a lot of comment from the entrepreneurs who use Etsy. Enjoy!

    16th October 2014 Paul Ormerod: Small is Powerful will open a "window onto our changing world"

    I was delighted yesterday to see a very nice article by one of my favourite economists Paul Ormerod discussing the themes of Small is Powerful. It appeared in the newspaper for City of London types: City AM. You can read it yourself here

    11th October 2014 Britain is crying out for politics controlled by voters not the big parties

    Just posted this over on my RSA blog. I'll be exploring these themes in more detail in the chapter on 'Small Politics' in Small is Powerful. For me the key is to develop a vision and practice of democracy which escapes the dominance of the 'big' institutions of the twentieth century, in particular, the main political parties.

    Britain is in the early stages of a crisis of democracy. Westminster…

    3rd October 2014 The battle between small and big power is being played out on the streets of Hong Kong. Small must win!

    China is a grim relic of the Twentieth Century. It is big not just in land mass and population but, more importantly, in its profound attachment to big power. The Chinese revolution happened in 1949 - a time when the love of the big state, big corporation and big, conformist culture was at its peak both in West and East.

    This was an era when it was widely assumed that big was more efficient, more…

    22nd September 2014 Small is Powerful: another great historical quote

    Just came across another striking quote showing how much the American revolutionaries understood that small is powerful. This one is not from some great historical figure but from a humble petition presented to Congress by the inhabitants of Kentucky in 1784 seeking redress for what they felt was an emerging injustice.  It speaks for itself:

    Numbers of monied Gentlemen in the settlement, who…

    14th September 2014 Small politics after the Scottish referendum

    Just posted over at my RSA blog about what a campaign for small politics across the rest of the UK might look like. Feel free to comment. It's here

    12th September 2014 Why I'm currently obsessed with the American Revolution

    It's not just because independence is in the air! 

    A really important aspect of Small is Powerful is the historical analysis. I am hoping to argue that the 'big consensus' that developed in the twentieth century (the idea that big government, big business and big culture were good) not only grew during the nineteenth century but also represented a major break with how we thought about freedom and…

    9th September 2014 Whether its Yes or No, British politics must change.

    I've just posted over on my RSA blog about how the psychological shock of a Yes vote in the Scottish referendum should lead to a very different type of politics where people rather than politicians get to shape the major decisions. It's the sort of thinking I hope to develop in the chapter of the book that deals with 'small politics'.

    7th September 2014 A brilliant historical quote that sums up small power

    I spoke yesterday at the Imagination Festival in Glasgow in a session cheekily entitled by the organisers 'Size Isn't Everything'. I spoke about the relationship between small power and equality and used this marvellous quote from John Adams, the man who more than any ever helped shaped the US Constitution. For me it sums up a lot about the small vision. In particular, the way small, distributed power…

    7th September 2014 Two posts about Small is Powerful

    Before I start posting here properly, I thought I'd point supporters of Small is Powerful to two posts I have written elsewhere about the book.

    The first is a synopsis but a lot longer than the one on the Unbound pitch. It's called "Small is Powerful: Escaping the 20th Century love of big power".

    The other explains why I think the leaders of the American Revolution had a far better understanding…

    5th September 2014 Wow and Thanks!

    To my utter amazement, people have already pledged real money for my book and it's only been up a few hours. A huge thank-you if you have pledged. I'll be posting regularly here in my shed with some formed and, more likely, unformed thoughts about the book as the research and writing continues. Really looking forward to engaging with you generous people.

    4th September 2014 Chapter Outline for Small Is Powerful

    Small is Powerful: why the era of big government, big business and big culture is over (and why it’s a good thing)

    Contents and Structure

    Adam Lent

    Chapter 1: Introduction

    Our world will be more free, stable, fair and creative when power and resources are less concentrated in big organisations and more widely distributed amongst smaller organisations…

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  • Nancy Turner
    Nancy Turner asked:

    This is not a question. I want to let you know that I have pinned this video here: With an invitation for others to help fund the book as well. I am looking forward to receiving my copy soon :)

    Adam Lent
    Adam Lent replied:

    Nancy, thank-you so much for doing this. Really appreciate that. Adam.

    Kevin Carroll
    Kevin Carroll asked:

    Adam, I Made a pledge today. How is your book coming along? Kevin Carroll

    Adam Lent
    Adam Lent replied:

    Thanks Kevin. I really appreciate your support. The book is progressing slowly but surely. I've written about two thirds now but I've still got that unpleasant experience of re-reading the draft and deciding it all needs to change to come yet.

    Andrew Hearse
    Andrew Hearse asked:

    I have pledged for the digital edition, but I would also like to upgrade to the hardback edition please.

    Adam Lent
    Adam Lent replied:

    Thanks Andrew. Very pleased to hear that! I'll pass your query onto the team at Unbound who'll be much better able to answer than me. Hope you enjoy the book when it is published. Adam.

    Andrew Hearse
    Andrew Hearse asked:

    I would like to upgrade from the digital edition to the hardback edition please.

    Unbound replied:

    Hi Andrew, If you log in to your Unbound account you can upgrade your pledge using this unique link:

    Bronwen Morgan
    Bronwen Morgan asked:

    Hi there - I pledged for a hard copy of the book ages ago, and did receive a couple of updates, including the most recent on July 18 2016 saying I weould receive the actual hard copy relatively soon. Nothing has since happened! - I really would love to read the book and of course I could buy a paperwork or Kindle copy on Amazon, but I was an early pledger and feel really disappointed that I don't seem to have had follow-through on this lovely (in principle) model of advance crowdfunding. Bronwen Morgan

    Unbound replied:

    Hi Bronwen, Thanks for getting in touch. We've checked your account and you pledged at the digital level. These were released last summer and you should have received an email, but you can always download the ebook from here: Unbound Support