There’s nothing middling about being in the middle (especially when it comes to business)

| October 11, 2017

I wonder if there’s something particularly Australian about disparaging the mean especially when it comes to anything to do with judgement.


By that I mean the average, the median or whatever term you chose to use to tar those in the middle with, which of course includes many businesses. Because with our traditional understatement there’s little worse than anything or anyone we describe as ‘average’ as if anything of any value must always be, and must stay above, the dreaded average.
Dare I suggest this relates particularly ridiculously around notions of the size of a business.  Small as they say is beautiful. Big is probably best thanks to so-called economies of scale. But what do you say to the many who perhaps through no fault of their own lie in-between cast adrift on the no-man’s land known as average.
Clustered in the middle of any statistical bell curve distribution is the average which is code for the following unhelpful synonyms: mediocre, undistinguished, mainstream, unexciting,  indifferent, humdrum, run-of-the-mill, pedestrian, prosaic, lacklustre, forgettable or worse for a business an amateur.  I fear some of this language sticks even unconsciously in the mind like prejudicial quicksand when anything is described as mid-sized.
Yet GAP’s  2017 work into the best performing  mid-sized companies, defined as those who employ from 20-199 and have a turnover between $10-$25million, found anything but the landscape suggested by  this lazy language.  The numbers as so often in business are much closer to the truth with these ‘ Hidden Giants’, as they were labelled in the last GAP Summit, employing well over half a million people and turning over $3 billion a year.
In anyone’s language is that average? And as we heard from any number of speakers the competitive markets these companies play in are hardly lacklustre. I suggested earlier Australians with their derisory use of the word average might in some sense be different. It’s ironic because we are blessed here by so many measures our average be it income, health, happiness, space etc is hardly average compared to the rest of the world. It’s pretty much at the top.
So we need to reclaim the middle, or if you like the average , and not be ashamed to stand proudly between the better identified and represented but no more worthy totems of small and big business. Sure their lobby groups are powerful and eloquent and they  have TV shows and columnists dedicated to echoing their every strife and injustice.  But the might in the middle is not to be meddled with. We can be seen as ‘Hidden Giants’ or very transparent mid-sized enterprises but we can no longer be ignored or dismissed.
Either way it’s time to claw back the middle ground and remind Australians that when it comes to company size average can be pretty bloody good.
Christopher Zinn
Christopher Zinn in an independent consumer advocate. He launched Adviser Ratings and www.determinedconsumer.com.au, to motivate consumer action. He has worked at CHOICE and One Big Switch as well as the ABC, Channel Nine and several newspapers.

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