Productivity//

Why It Pays to Sweat SOME of the Small Stuff

In a world that’s building altars to size and scale, an argument can be made for the power of the small, the sustainable and the incremental.

Photo by Jenna Hamra from Pexels
Photo by Jenna Hamra from Pexels

The rich are getting richer. The top 0.1% own more than the bottom 80% by wealth distribution. Meanwhile, the big are getting bigger, faster. Tech companies today achieve market-cap milestones—$500 million, $1 billion, and $5 billion—three times faster than they did 15 years ago. Network effects and acquisitions have led to increased consolidation in most major sectors/ industries.

Scale advantage. Platforms. Networks. Unicorns. “Go big or go home”. These words and phrases are varying forms of worship at the altar of size, scale and speed. But is this reverence potentially eclipsing the relevance of the power of the little and the incremental? Where the narrative and headlines are focused on the power of scale, and meteoric rises to success, are we potentially overseeing the potential of what’s small and grows steadily? Here’s why we need to shine a spotlight on the smaller things.

The “right” small stuff matters. Big time. It’s true; you shouldn’t sweat ALL the small stuff. But obsessing about the right stuff can make a disproportionate difference to the outcome. In the product development phase for a leading consumer products company, changing the fragrance levels from 0.50% of total volume to 0.35% made an unstable product, stable—solving a 2-year R&D challenge, and allowing an innovative product offering to make it to market. Design and innovation experts would argue that the smallest of tweaks could drastically change the user experience and an iterative approach has at least as much of a legit chance of driving growth as “big bang” innovations.

Small changes made consistently > Big one-off resolutions made dramatically – Diets, fitness regimens, saving better, giving up smoking… anything that calls for habit change (and is, by definition, incredibly hard) is more likely to stick if done incrementally. Chipping away in disciplined doses gives one the momentum to scale mountains, and is known to be more sustainable. Intentional evolution > Irrational resolution.

Small wins, big motivations –Very often, realising one’s vision or “big” dream can be a rollercoaster ride – and the path might have many potholes and dead ends, involve dark days and demons of doubt. Combating all this requires resilience and fuel. In this journey, little victories are like the energy bar one needs during a marathon. Meeting meaningful milestones is a tremendous motivator, so celebrate every little triumph unconditionally, whether it is the first client or that glowing customer review. Each small win is a step forward.

If you can’t re-write the big headline… – The ease with which width and depth of news is made available 24/7, has led to the coining of the phrase ‘compassion fatigue’. Psychologist Charles Figley defines it as “a state of exhaustion and dysfunction, biologically, physiologically and emotionally, as a result of prolonged exposure to compassion stress”.

Directing outrage in generous doses at something one doesn’t control could be a waste. Instead of shaking one’s fists at the sky, or feeling guilty about inequality and the state of education, or being heartbroken about the plight of animals, one may argue, it might be better to roll up your sleeves and bring textbooks to a child who might not be able to afford them, and give an animal (or two) a foster home. It is better we shape the narrative where we can, than lament a headline we can’t edit.

Low resources can be a catalyst – The curse of resource-rich countries (high in oil, minerals, etc. but witnessing poor economic development) is driven, at least partly, because they do not actively invest in the creation of growth strategies or diversification. This is the paradox of plenty. High levels of resources could, and often do, lead to complacency. And lack of resources could have plenty of advantages—after all, Midge Maisel would still have been making braised brisket, instead of kick-starting a brilliant career as a comedian, had hubby Joel not left her, penniless, with two young kids, and without a home to call her own. So! If you thought that starting off with less was an insurmountable disadvantage, think of the hunger it brings. The creativity it powers. And the liberation it affords…

…when all you have to lose, is little.

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