Oftentimes, we look at huge efforts and never start to tackle them because of their enormity. There is an old quote that I often use, “opportunity is missed because it is often dressed up as hard work.” Yet, to accomplish any major task or to embark on an arduous journey, you must take that first step. And, remember the journey is made up of small steps. This is my way of saying break the huge effort down into smaller steps and it won’t seem so overwhelming. But, I would add that you should do each step well, as if you don’t you may need to go back and do it again.
Hopefully, you will also have some semblance of a plan, rather than embark without an idea or goal. But, even without a plan, doing nothing will most likely not get you where you need to go. On this last point, with three children and during some tutoring I have done, I will share with the student on tackling a problem they don’t know how to do – “well let’s start with writing down what you do know.” Once you start, the problem becomes more visual. On old professor called it “thinking with your pencil.” Plus, a teacher wants to see if you have a clue, even if you miss the problem, so they can help you work through the problem.
I have written in earlier posts excerpts from some interesting starts to solving major problems. Each of these three examples were actually ridiculed, yet they paved the way to a successful problem resolution. From the book “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg, I wrote a post about Paul O’Neill, the very successful CEO of Alcoa who went on to serve in President George W. Bush’s administration. The post can be found with the attached link. https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/who-is-paul-oneill-and-why-should-his-opinions-matter/.
O’Neill joined Alcoa and turned the company around by focusing on safety. When he said he wanted to make Alcoa the safest company on the planet at his first CEO public appearance, he was ridiculed and one financial advisor told all of his clients to dump Alcoa stock today. The advisor later said that was the worst piece of financial advice I have ever given. Why safety? O’Neill told people later, “that was only issue I could get management and the unions to agree was important.” With this focus, communication between management and the workers on the manufacturing floor improved and it was a two-way street. Information on how to make things safer and improve processes started being discussed and Alcoa improved safety and productivity. This translated into financial success and the stock took off.
Malcolm Gladwell used an example in his book “The Tipping Point” about how terrible subway crime was stopped in New York City. Although more complicated than this, it started with the subway management painting over the graffiti on the trains and walls every day. If graffiti appeared, they made every effort to make sure it was gone the next day. What happened next is the vandals and robbers starting seeing this and felt if they are going to this much trouble to paint trains and walls, then we better not do any crimes here. This seemingly small step was laughed at, but it made a huge difference.
The final example is another small one, similar to the above two, courtesy of Steve Jobs. When Jobs built his first plant in China, he was involved in the intricate details. When he was asked what color to the paint the walls, he said white. When he was told that was foolish as it would show dirt and grime, he retorted we will just paint it again. His point is white is a cleaner look and if we keep it clean by repainting, this will show we have great attention to detail and the workers will notice. They will extrapolate that to other areas. This attention to detail continued until right before he died as Jobs had a heavy hand in designing the new headquarters for Apple. He was insistent on having small meeting rooms with white boards along the highly trafficked routes in the halls to the rest rooms and break rooms. The reason is the chance encounters and “hey, what are you working on” hall conversations would lead to idea sharing meetings.
Small steps. Harder problems are made easier if broken down into small steps.These three success stories involved safety and buckets of paint, which few thought were the most important or necessary steps to success. If you break large tasks into smaller steps and try to excel at each step, then the journey will be made easier. No matter how small that step may appear to others, that first step has to be taken. And, suppose you make a mistake along the way; remember the lesson of Steve Jobs and the New York subway – you can always paint over it – and move forward.