In this modern age of wonders, everything is getting smaller, from tangible products like laptop computers and industrial grade servers to more ethereal concepts like the shelf-life of Change and the barriers of Distance. (Except smartphones, for which “cutting edge” no longer means it can easily be used with one hand and comfortably fit in your pocket.) As a sign of our modern western world’s incoherent decadence, we even have a term for those tiny inconveniences or slights that command the attention and imaginations of the perpetually outraged: microagressions.
I was reminded of the power of small things recently when I was with family over the Thanksgiving holiday. By strictly following a few simple dietary changes, my Brother-in-law had lost 80 pounds over the course of roughly seven months. His amazing accomplishment wasn’t the result of a radical fad diet, total abstention from entire classes of foods, or a maniacal exercise regimen. He simply ate a small breakfast of fruit, a simple sack lunch, a balanced, appropriately-portioned dinner, and made water his drink of choice.
The key? He did this every day.
Seeing a photo of him standing with both legs inside a single pant leg of jeans he wore less than a year ago was striking and inspiring. Even more, it was a vivid reminder of the compounding effects of a relatively small change consistently implemented … of tiny changes fastidiously adhered to … of micro-disciplines, if you will, practiced over time. Much like the power of compounding interest in financial investments, even tiny changes implemented with an unwavering consistency over time will yield massive results. This is true regardless of the desirability of the change: making poor decisions, even small ones, over time will eventually lead to pain and suffering as surely as making good decisions in seemingly insignificant matters over time will lead to success. If you aren’t familiar with the concept of “aggregation of marginal gains” or don’t know who David Brailsford is, do yourself a favor: stop reading this post and go read this one by James Clear.
As Leaders, it is too easy to succumb to the Siren song of making a huge shift, whether in the strategy we’re pursuing, the service we’re providing, or the demands on the people charged with achieving the organization’s mission. Sweeping changes and big splashes are sexy and most easily leave one’s mark on an organization, but that doesn’t make them any more likely to lead to success. If your goal is achieving organizational success more so than simply making a name for yourself, do not overlook the path of small, nearly invisible changes and the role of Discipline. As the success of both my Brother-in-law and the UK Cycling team show, disciplined execution is itself a winning strategy.