As we enter the New Year, we all tend to embrace it as an opportunity for some new beginnings. New Year’s resolutions abound, all made with the best of intentions. Some resolutions are truly audacious while others focus on small improvements on the edges of our lives. Whether big or small, most of these resolutions soon fall by the wayside as the pressures of day to day living resume their relentless quest to consume every minute available.
Having had this experience myself many, many times, I’ve begun to realize that the key to lasting change and improvement is to embrace the paradox that small moves made now are the best way to set big things in motion. How is that possible? Well, the small moves must be smartly made, otherwise they just remain small moves and quickly become engulfed by the unfolding events of our lives.
What do I mean by “smartly made”? Well, this requires carefully knitting together three elements – focus, leverage and accelerate. Without all three of these elements, those small moves run a high risk of remaining just that – small moves with little impact on our lives or the lives of those around us.
Let’s take each of those elements and explore them in a bit more detail. First, start with focus, because that’s the foundation of everything else. Focus means that we must have a sense of direction and destination before we craft our small moves. We have to have some view of the bigger impact we are trying to achieve. What would it look like? Why would it be so important or valuable? What makes us think that it is achievable? We don’t need to have a detailed blueprint of the destination, but it has to have enough clarity so that we can make some more effective choices in the short-term regarding the small moves that have the greatest potential to move us in that direction. Otherwise, we’ll just randomly be pursuing small moves and spreading ourselves way too thinly across too many initiatives that consume time and energy with minimal results.
If we can articulate that focus to ourselves and to others, it also can draw others to us who are inspired by that focus. That leads to the second key element of “smartly made” – leverage. We need to rid ourselves of the illusion that we alone can, or should, achieve the broader impact defined by our focus. No matter how smart and accomplished we are, we’ll accomplish a lot more if we can motivate and mobilize others to join us in our quest. Rather than applying all of our resources to achieving that impact, if we’re smart about it, we can get others to contribute resources of their own. By attracting a more diverse set of resources and participants, we’ll increase the potential for more creative and effective moves that will expand our potential for impact. Leverage therefore both reduces the investment of time and resources we need to make as well as increasing the quality and magnitude of our impact.
But there’s also a third element of “smartly made” – accelerate. Does that just mean moving faster? Well, it’s a little bit more complicated than that. It’s actually built on another paradox – we’ll in the end be able to move faster if we take the time along the way to reflect on the progress that we’re making. By taking that time, we’ll be able to continually refine our efforts based on the learning that we accumulate by assessing what elements of our moves are achieving greater impact than expected and what elements of our moves are achieving less impact than expect. If we just rush forward on a particular path, we might move faster in the early rounds, but we’ll never achieve the acceleration that comes from reflection, learning and refinement.
If we’re really serious about achieving very significant impact, we need to assess the trajectory of our progress. Are we achieving greater impact over time? Is our impact improving linearly or is our impact accelerating over time? The only way to set really big things in motion is to strive for acceleration of impact rather than settling for linear improvements. That becomes the context for the reflection, learning and refinement that we need to continually engage in along the way.
And when we engage in this reflection, learning and refinement, let’s not make the mistake of doing it in isolation. We need to reach out to others who are contributing resources and efforts to engage them in this process. We’ll benefit from having diverse backgrounds, perspectives and skill sets – it will help us to learn faster than we ever could on our own. In fact, we should also reach out to others who are in the domains that we’re trying to impact but not directly involved in our efforts to get an outside in perspective.
These three elements need to be pursued in parallel; they aren't sequential. For example, as we accelerate through learning, we’ll also refine our view of the direction that we’re pursuing and what’s required to achieve the even more of the potential that motivated us to choose that direction in the first place. We’ll also motivate others to join us as they see the kind of acceleration that we’re achieving along the way.
Let's begin the New Year right
If we get this right, the rewards will be great. Small moves, smartly made, will indeed set big things in motion. For those of you who are intrigued by this approach, you might want to check out The Power of Pull which lays out this approach in much greater detail.
And, who knows? In this New Year, we might for the first time have the potential to achieve something truly remarkable. But first we need to leave behind all those resolutions, large and small, and focus instead on smartly making small moves.