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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