Apr 162012

It must be time for me to make some changes. Everywhere I look, people seem to be talking about making small changes. Michael Hyatt had a great podcast about making small, incremental changes. This morning, J.D. Roth over at Get Rich Slowly talked about trying Just One Thing every day. As I have hinted here recently, I am thinking of making some fairly large changes in my life, but I have to admit, making large changes scares me. Listening to the advice of these and other people over the last couple weeks has helped me understand something about change: tiny changes make a huge difference over time.

I have always been fascinated by flying and how to navigate over long distances. When a pilot flies to a faraway place, she doesn’t set an exact course and then forget about it of the rest of the trip. Constant, tiny course corrections are required over the entire duration of the flight. One degree difference in course doesn’t make a difference immediately, but over the span of hours at high speed, it builds to a difference of hundreds of miles. Consequently, pilots must constantly adjust their heading so the airplane arrives precisely as desired.

I want to be in a different place in my life this time next year. To get there, I need to make changes in what I doing today. The necessary alterations don’t seem all that big today, so it doesn’t seem all that important at times to make the tiny adjustments. I can easily talk myself out of the effort to make that one small course correction today, because it doesn’t seem all that important. However, over time, those tiny changes add up.

Fifteen months ago, I started writing with the goal of gaining discipline in my life. Thinking about it the morning, I thought I may have written around 100 articles. As of today, I have amassed 230 blog posts. I was surprised to see it more than double my expectations. Small, daily changes will do that. As I finished my run on Saturday, the application I use for tracking informed me I have completed nearly 200 miles over this same fifteen months. I haven’t been great at the discipline of running, but 200 miles is a far sight better than I would have predicted when I started. The point is through small, daily changes, I have made great progress.

Now I want more change. Here are the steps I am going to take to make it successful.

  1. Write down a specific goal.
  2. Break the goal down into one month milestones.
  3. Define daily actions to achieve the next milestone.
  4. Find an accountability buddy for a daily progress report.
  5. Track the progress and put the chart where I see it.

Sounds pretty basic, doesn’t it? That is the point. Daily tiny shifts in habit become radical changes. I am going to write on these topics over the next few days, so I would love to hear your perspective. What has worked for you? Which works better for you – tiny change or dramatic change? How do you keep momentum? What do you want to change? Have you been surprised where a tiny shift has led you? I would love to hear your successes (and failures). Please leave a comment and let’s learn together.

Apr 032012

They say, especially politicians, we should never change horses midstream. I completely disagree. For one, we are always midstream. When in life do we have an opportunity to stop, sit down and consider making sweeping change? It just doesn’t happen. Life continues on around us; we have to keep moving.

Change, however, must be made, and rarely is it convenient. One key, I believe, is to avoid unnecessary change. For many years, I have taught classes on Task Management and Personal Productivity. I espouse using a task management system to keep track of all the things we must do. I have have helped dozens set up a systems, ranging from paper to electronic. I have used too many systems and devices to count. Many hours and countless dollars came out of the family budget in search of the perfect system, for which I thank my patient wife. Along the way, I have learned a few things about making change.

  1. Don’t make a change just because something new comes along. Shiny doesn’t equate to good. “New” is not a reason to make a change. Resist the temptation. Often “new” has a lot of marketing hype and needs time to mature before it is ready to be part of a trusted system. Yes, there are exceptions, but not often.
  2. Only make a change when there is a specific reason. I have changed systems so many times, I can’t count. The more successful attempts have always had an underlying reason attached, such as when I finally made the shift from paper to electronic. Instead of finding a cool, sexy device, I looked for something that would help me not have to rewrite my daily task list every day when I didn’t get it completed. Once I shifted my focus to a particular goal, the correct tool appeared and the shift was easy and lasting.
  3. Make the change quickly and completely. Kind of like ripping a Band-Aid off, just get it over with. Spend a few hours making the conversion and then don’t look back. If it drags out over several days, your subconscious will go nuts trying to remember which system contains the information necessary. Copy the data over as quickly as possible. Yes, the organization won’t be perfect and some time will be necessary for adjustment, but adapt in one tool, not two.
  4. Get advice from those who use the target tool before making the jump. People love to share their experiences. Try to find a mix of people who currently use the target as well as those who no longer use it. This second group can often be some of the most helpful, since there was a reason they left. Ask to see how things are set up and working (or not). Learning from others will reduce the number of bad choices and increase the speed of conversion to good ones.
  5. Give it time, but don’t hesitate too long to jump back if it was a bad move. Not every change is a good one. While we have to give ourselves time to adjust to the differences, don’t live with a bad choice very long. In task management systems, it will become apparent rapidly, often within just a few days. If it isn’t providing the desired results, go back. It won’t take very long to reactivate the old system if it is just a few days stale. If it is a few months, well, it may be best to start over.

Change is not easy, but with a little planning and foresight, it can be well worth the trauma. After all, it is how we improve. Following these four points can help ensure any change will result in greater speed and reduced turmoil

Mar 282012

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell  

What makes a shoe that has languished in the market for years, suddenly popular and the latest fashion trend? At what point did fax machines go from being odd toys to ubiquitous business necessities? How did the Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood go from completely dismissed to a national bestseller? These are the questions, among many others, Gladwell tackles in his book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.

Gladwell, like Jim Collins, spends his life asking questions and then researching the answers, looking for the catalysts for change. In Gladwell’s assessment, large events hinge on small, almost imperceptible events. He calls these Tipping Points, a moment of critical mass, the threshold, or a boiling point where drastic changes the outcomes occur. He likens it to a shift of a couple degrees of temperature and what was once rain becomes fluffy snow, the unexpected becomes expected and radical changes is more than a possibility.

Gladwell lays out three rules for a Tipping Point: the Law of the Few, The Stickiness Factor and the Power of Context. Each rules is accompanied by a lengthy and detailed argument for his theory. For example, the Law of the Few examines why Paul Revere of Revolutionary War fame was successful in his ride to muster and army to stop the British where others were merely late night riders annoying the slumbering towns. He examines the “stickiness” of Sesame Street and how Blues Clues took it one step farther. He then shows how the New York City the Power of Context to clean up a serious crime problem.

One section I really enjoyed was his discussion on Connectors. These are people who spend their time putting people together. They know all the right people and enjoy helping put these people in touch with each other when the need is perceived. These are the people, who after eating at a good restaurant, will be on the phone immediately afterward, cluing in their friends who will also like it. Paul Revere was one such gregarious person, which was the key to his successful ride.

Gladwell has some very interesting theories, but I couldn’t help wonder through the entire book if social psychology could be summed up so simply. He does present a case study in which the rules were applied by a marketing company to take an obscure sneaker and clothing company from a tiny niche market to a huge international success… and back. It is very interesting to contemplate and Gladwell makes a good case. However, in the end, the theory resonated with me as good ideas worth some investigation, but certainly not the complete answers to the questions.

I read Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking a few years ago and I intend to read his latest book, Outliers: The Story of Success. I enjoy Gladwell’s ideas and theories. His stories are interesting and support his points. He makes me think differently and look at other options. I just don’t buy into his theories 100%.

Perhaps it was the constant barrage of story after story and constant referencing back to previous stories that wore me down. Collins did much the same in Great By Choice, but his book was one-third the length and felt more believable to me. I struggled to get to the end of Gladwell’s tome. I found that I couldn’t toe dip – pick it up and read for a few minutes and come back later. It took at least twenty minutes for me to get under the surface of his writing style to enjoy the material involved. Once I got in the groove, though, I did enjoy it. I just didn’t have large blocks of time to devote to it until I finally became committed to finishing it. Unfortunately, that commitment was just a desire to get to the end.