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The condition of smallness: how what it means to be small deters firms from getting bigger

Anderson, Alistair; Anderson, Alistair R.; Ullah, Farid


Alistair Anderson

Alistair R. Anderson

Farid Ullah


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to examine and explain why most small firms remain small. A new conceptual framework - the condition of smallness - is proposed. Design/methodology/approach: A critical examination of the literature about the nature of being a small firm is first conducted. Employing an inductive analysis of responses from a survey of 2,521 small business owners about employment regulation, the nature and effects of smallness is examined. Findings: It was found that owners' choice making combines with perceptions about their resources to produce a condition of smallness. The condition of smallness is conceptualised as the circularity perceptions, attitudes and consequent practices that reflect lack of knowledge, time and capability. It is argued that this condition of smallness inhibits growth to create a wicked problem that explains why most small firms don't grow. Research limitations/implications: This work is largely conceptual, albeit the argument is grounded in, and illustrated by, empirical data. The findings may not be generalisable beyond this paper's data sets, but may be generalisable conceptually. Originality/value: The focus of much scholarly work has been on growth firms. Yet the typical small firm is excluded so that the issues of smallness are often overlooked. This paper, therefore contributes to understanding why small firms don't grow. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.


ANDERSON, A.R. and ULLAH, F. 2014. The condition of smallness: how what it means to be small deters firms from getting bigger. Management decision [online], 52(2), pages 326-349. Available from:

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Feb 1, 2014
Online Publication Date Mar 11, 2014
Publication Date Mar 11, 2014
Deposit Date Sep 20, 2016
Publicly Available Date Sep 20, 2016
Journal Management Decision
Print ISSN 0025-1747
Electronic ISSN 1758-6070
Publisher Emerald
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 52
Issue 2
Pages 326-349
Keywords Management Science and Operations Research; General Business, Management and Accounting
Public URL


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