Little Steps: Less Exciting but More Productive

Many of us focus on priorities, the 80-20 rule, excellence, and other tools that help identify winners and best performers. However, in many cases and especially in established businesses and practices the tortoise and hare approach may be more effective. A simple example: Playing the lottery is a bad bet regardless of the prize especially after accepting the cash value and paying taxes. In contrast betting the colors in black jack or pass in craps has almost even money odds. Yet the lottery has all the glamor and excitement of maybe getting rich.

We tend to prioritize and consider the most important factors in a decision. However, we should not forget that the chain is only as strong as the weakest link. For example, many sports games are won by fewer mistakes than the greatest plays.

Athletes generally improve with small steps. Swimmers will work on improving one part of their routine at a time. Recently track stars have been setting records as a result of minor changes in shoe technology. Baseball technology but not interest has significantly improved because of analytics. Sports has also added more coaching specialists at every level and I assume they are making contributions to their teams’ performance.     

The easiest small step is customer service. Some of the efforts are easy and inexpensive. Be honest, say please, thank you and how are you. Pay attention to inventory, appearance, and speed. For example, be in stock in your key items. Work with suppliers and service help to share needs and improve. Review pandemic changes and especially performance and lead times for changes. Develop contingency plans for emergencies. Stores like Home Depot seem prepared for weather issues while the airlines don’t seem to have a clue.  

It's getting to harvest season. There really is a difference in fresh picked corn, tomatoes apples and other fruits and vegetables than the normal warehouse aged products. Similarly great cooks have all their little secrets. My wife’s family used to be in the dairy business and to this day no one makes better fresh whipped cream with her specific details like even refrigerating the beaters.    

Be realistic. Explain problems, delays, changes and don’t be afraid to give bad news. On the other hand, be positive about searching for new solutions. Remember you frequently get praised for beating forecasts and criticized for missing them regardless of the actual numbers. Kids are expert at complaining about school work, projecting low grades and then having great performance,  

We need to credit the proper author of quotes rather than the more popular or recent. For example, Yogi Berra is frequently cited for saying, “If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there.” It was really Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland. Robert Kennedy is frequently cited for saying, "Some men see things as they are, and say 'why?'. I dream of things that never were, and say 'why not. It was really George Bernard Shaw in Methuselah.

In summary don’t let little mistakes in big ideas ruin the whole idea. In contrast paying attention to details can greatly enhance ideas. 

Related: Use Conflict to Improve Collaboration