Think Small, Achieve Big

Getting-things-done tools, or goal-setting by breaking big goals into smaller, more achievable ones, have been very fashionable in the management field lately. A different perspective, but the same aspect of becoming more productive, is the “Lean” approach, as in Lean Management or Lean Startup. All those approaches are based on one fundamental principle: think small.

The flip side of all goal setting techniques is the limited size of the belief someone has in accomplishing that goal. If you set yourself big goals but you don’t really belief in accomplishing them, you won’t be successful. Even if you break your big goal down into smaller ones, you know that there is this big goal somewhere in the background. The danger is that you know you just use the technique because you wouldn’t accomplish this goal straightaway – a classic cognitive dissonance.

My personal approach to reaching my goals is a different one: I think small, very small. I think so small, that my goals become one with my actions. For me, every single action is a goal itself –  you could call it ‘goal-action-identity’. Or, you could see it as a changed perspective: for me, a goal isn’t something I want to achieve in the future, but it’s exactly that what I’m doing right now. This might sound strange at the first glance, but this goal-action-unity implies several personal benefits:

  • Actions are consciously performed: if you think about what you’re just doing, and this action is what you want to do at this moment, then you act consciously and you put as much quality in your action as possible.
  • No stress involved: if your actions contain high quality then this is the best you can perform at this moment and consequently, there is no need to be stressed since you couldn’t fill this moment with something better.
  • Actions and goals are here and now: you don’t have to look into a (brighter) future, towards better actions, better conditions, or accomplished goals. There’s nothing you have to do first, before you can start accomplishing your goal.

The most interesting effect of this unity of goals and action for me is that other aspects of life have evolved in positive ways: here and there I’ve experienced nice twists where I had never expected them.

But, you might say, doesn’t that sound rather esoteric? What are the practical implications of that unity of goals and actions? Here are two examples, one I have recently been told by a business partner, and another I experienced myself during a pitch with AppAdvisors:

A big business built on a small idea 
In 2008, Fanny Auger was so pissed by spammy newsletters that she decided to launch My Little Paris, a newsletter subscription service for women interested in Paris’ restaurants, fashion and other urban tips. The original idea was to provide exactly that kind of dreadfully missed, high-quality service, to friends. In 2013, the founders sold 60% of their company for $90 million , and today the company is fully owned by Axel Springer, a German media company. What started small, as an idea to provide something very small, but in high quality, became huge within a few years. Today, My Little Paris has over 1.2 million subscribers and over 100,000 people paying a monthly fee for receiving a carefully curated beauty box.

Small is authentic
An agency pitch isn’t necessarily the part of work you love most: in order to win the assignment you have to invest heavily – you spend days or weeks of time and human resources. If you don’t win the assignment, you typically don’t know why exactly. To maximize their chances, many agencies try to see things from their potential client’s perspective and to present solutions for all imaginable problems. Being a small-sized company with a focus on consultancy, our approach at AppAdvisors is different:

  • we take our potential client’s briefing, strip it down to its core and create a solution for this core aspect,
  • we try to think this aspect through, even if time to presentation is scarce,
  • we try to see things from the perspective of the clients or users of our potential client,
  • we present just one single solution, the one we like most.

Sometimes, we win an assignment, sometimes we don’t. But every time we are happy with the result, since we believe in our solution.

These are two practical examples of how you could unite your goals with actions. There are gazillions of opportunities to align your goals with your actions. I encourage you to do it: start with simple actions and think about them as goals at the same time. Lend substance to these actions, make them important. Do that with actions of your everyday routine. And then look what happens.

The photo was taken at Ammersee, a lake in the south-west of Munich.

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