Thursday, 17 November 2011

Think Small: the art of the achievable

We’re always being urged to “Think Big”, to stretch our imaginations to see what is possible, to visualise what we want to (and can) become.

It’s stirring stuff. Just the sort of thing to get us fired up at a motivational talk and walk out of the door ready to take on the world and emerge as the ‘next big thing’.

Unfortunately, for most of us, that’s about as far as it goes. With every step we take out of that inspirational talk, that ultimate goal slips further and further from our grasp. The more we focus on those grand ambitions, the harder it gets to imagine achieving them. The chasm between where we are and where we want to be is just too huge. Gradually, the dream fades and we settle back into the status quo.

After all, what you can’t imagine, you can’t achieve.

That’s where “Think Small” has to come in. The road to every grand design is paved with a series of small steps. Small, manageable and - above all - achievable stages.

You might dream of a fulfilling, harmonious home life. One free of petty squabbles about who didn’t change the loo roll, or how you’re going to pay the next pile of bills to drop into your letterbox. Clicking your heels together, a la Dorothy in 'The Wizard of Oz', is not going to make it happen. Transforming the everyday kitchen sink melodramas that populate our mundane lives into an oasis of serenity and warmth seems like Mission Impossible (cue music and Tom Cruise dangling from the ceiling). You cannot imagine it as achievable, so you give up.

But hold on. Rewind. Let’s take another look. Break it down into a series of small stages and maybe we can imagine achieving that coveted dream of a happy home life. Make a conscious decision not to go nuclear every time you reach for the toilet tissue to find the last visitor to the littlest room has left a single ineffectual sheet hanging sadly off the holder. Instead, plan ahead and make sure there is always a back-up of two or three rolls within arm’s reach.

When you want your teen to make their bed/do their homework/clear the table, resist the urge to screech like a banshee on speed. Instead, remind them calmly but firmly to do their bit (just be prepared to say it several times, preferably not through gritted teeth). Credit them with the maturity to make a useful contribution to the household.

And when the latest demand for your hard-earned cash lands on the doormat, don’t turn on your Other Half shouting accusations of profligacy, citing those new killer heels or that latest gadget as evidence. No-one reacts well to a harpy, and playing the victim just invites more abuse. Instead, take a deep breath, sit down and work out the solution. Together.

The same small stuff thinking applies to the world of work. If you dream of achieving something great in your professional life, don’t make a mental leap straight to the ultimate prize. You must have the vision, for sure, but if you don’t plot the steps that will get you there, you are doomed to disappointment.

Steve Jobs may have been one of those rare human beings to make huge mental leaps to something extraordinary, but even he took Apple through a series of steps that led to the must-have latest gadget to reshape our world. Back in the mid-90s, the company was in disarray and looked doomed to failure. Step by step, it was revamped, a new corporate vision was imagined and a series of small achievable stages were made to make it one of the world’s best-known brands. According to reports, Jobs’ legacy includes a list of thousands more innovations, yet more goals to be achieved after his demise.

So, next time you look up at your Grand Design and take a gulp of self-doubt, just stop and take a deep breath. Re-imagine it, with a pathway of small achievable steps that will eventually take you where you want to be.


  1. Absolutely! It's the age old question... how do you eat an elephant? One spoonful at a time.

    I also like that you added the positive reinforcement - we get so caught up in "the vision" that we forget to encourage along the way, and instead point out all the negatives rather than praise the positives. :)

    Another excellent article!

  2. Abso-effing-lutely. Keep on trying each and every day.

  3. Very nice post. It's part of human nature to take the "short cut" of life. I've learnt a lot from your post. Thnx

  4. It's my birthday! Party at my blog - cocktail weenies and whiskey sours for all! 8-)