There can be no denying that General Motors and Ford are getting smaller.
GM plans to remove 1 million units of capacity in North America by closing four assembly plants and four components plants while eliminating 30,000 hourly jobs. That will help cut costs considerably.
Bill Ford will announce similar cuts for his company, probably after the first of the year.
But just getting smaller isn't enough. Management teams at GM and Ford need to think smaller, too.
Therein lies the rub: That's not what they've been trained to do.
For their entire careers, Big 3 executives have been taught, trained, mentored and encouraged to run the biggest industrial companies in the world.
These are not stupid people. But their career paths haven't emphasized entrepreneurship, making quick decisions or transforming companies, business models and people, unless there is a crisis. By then it's usually too late to do anything except react.
It's been that way for decades.
Want proof? In the 1960s, John DeLorean was a bright young engineer at GM who, as part of a team, helped resurrect Pontiac. He was promoted up the ladder - until he was shown the door.
The book he collaborated on with J. Patrick Wright, On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors, laid bare many of the sins and flaws that come from thinking big, from managing by committee to the bad, unethical decisions made by ethical people.
One reason DeLorean's own sports car project subsequently failed is that he tried to delegate too much responsibility to too few staffers -- as if he were still at GM. He couldn't be adaptive, responsive or truly entrepreneurial.
He just plain couldn't focus.
Since then, many things have changed at GM, but not the bigness concept.
In a TV commercial aired during the Employee Discount for Everyone sale last summer, a GM employee matter-of-factly boasted about being "the biggest automaker," as if it were still the 1950s.
The reality is that GM has lost more than 20 points of North American market share and stands a good chance of being globally outproduced next year by Toyota.
There is still too much swagger, and it's not just a GM thing. Big 3 execs come from pretty much the same mold.
As a result, many of their best and brightest have become disillusioned and left.
Getting smaller by eliminating excess capacity and trimming hourly and salaried head counts may make Wall Street happy. But it won't matter if the corporate culture doesn't change.
The executives who remain must be part of a proactive entrepreneurial culture that anticipates the future, then quickly adjusts and adapts to take advantage of it.
Ironically, GM's product czar, Bob Lutz, saw it coming.
In his Chrysler days a decade ago, Lutz said that in the future -- meaning now -- it's not the big who will eat the small but the quick who will eat the slow.
For GM and Ford, it's time not to be slow.
You may e-mail Edward Lapham at