Just because you can’t see something move, it doesn’t mean it didn’t move. The smallest actions and movements are not visible to the naked eye. Does that mean they didn’t happen? Interactions between particles and potential at the subatomic level are foundational for our existence and often go unnoticed as we check email, swipe to reload content or partially listen to a conversation with a friend.
Awareness of these small actions and their combinatory power can yank our bootstraps from the unwieldy stagnation, indecision, and fear of pursuing a wonderfully crazy idea.
Have you ever thought of an idea so game-changing that at first glance seemed impossible? We have all likely been to a place where the first step seems unimaginable. What keeps us from embarking on these adventures? Many would argue that time is the limiting factor. True that we are confined to a finite daily temporal environment … 1,440 minutes to be exact. It cannot be paused, rewound, stored or saved for later. Through awareness, we can allocate time for what is truly important to us, and I guarantee that every one of us can find slack in our systems if we really looked for it.
Whether your demons are staying organized, finding focus, or you have found yourself fully dedicated to something that doesn’t make your heart sing, there is always time to thoughtfully reallocate this precious gift. Another factor that is even more of a culprit is that we convince ourselves that our actions are meaningless, that too many obstacles exist, and that unless we have a large microphone with 1,000 speakers facing the influential majority, the overall exercise is futile.
Enter bogus, negative self-talk…
How could I solve a problem so complex?
Smarter people than me have already tried and failed.
I don’t have any resources.
I don’t know anyone. You gotta know people to make things like this happen.
I could make a difference, but there is no way that I can move the needle.
With this kind of thought, the needle is definitely moving in one direction …
How can we then guide a great idea through the path of uncertainty?
Life is the interaction of the small parts of big things in action themselves. Electrical charges alter the shapes of the proteins that make up our cells. Our cells dance in orchestral formation to bring life to the larger organs and systems in our bodies. Those major systems deliver the essential functions of our existence, which include breath, heartbeat, and consciousness. The small parts are fully committed to their small action, while they knowingly or unknowingly serve a greater purpose and larger effort. In an ordinal sequence, 1 is committed to reaching 2, and 2 is committed to traveling to 3 and so on. 1 doesn’t think about how 3,487 plans to reach 3,488.
Interaction builds momentum even when we can’t see it, touch it or feel it.
Trust me, it is there.
The Majority Misconception
We hold a common misconception that the majority rules. Maybe in political contests and partnership agreements, but there are cases where the smaller, more passionate group served as the catalyst for foundational change. Consider the civil rights movement. Small actions turned the wheels of a beautiful machine that changed the world. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was sitting in her assigned section of the bus on her way home from work. When she was asked to give up her seat to a white man, she refused and was taken to jail. Her small action led to a 381-day boycott of the Montgomery bus system as well as the creation of the Montgomery Improvement Association, led by then rising civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. On September 3, 1957, the Little Rock Nine arrived at Central High School to attend classes but were abruptly stopped by the Arkansas National Guard. After the nine students were blocked again, President Eisenhower sent federal troops to escort them to class. On February 1, 1960, four students refused to leave a Woolworth’s lunch counter without being served in Greensboro, NC.
These small groups used small actions to change the world.
The Long Game
If your strides are roughly 30 inches apart, there are 55,344 steps in a marathon. It all starts with a single step followed by other single steps. As a coach and trainer, I always tell my athletes to get their minds right. It all starts upstairs and it requires patience in the long game. Consider another example. Roughly two billion years ago, the atmosphere of Earth began the colossal transformation from a sulfate-rich environment to the oxygen-based atmosphere that supports all life today. The main characters in this transformational performance were cyanobacteria. Do you think these microscopic creatures were impatient? Nope. They were focused on taking in sunlight and water to create energy for their survival with oxygen as a mere by-product.
It’s highly likely that we are on this planet today because of the small actions of tiny organisms over several hundred million years.
Autonomy and Cooperation
Holonics is an organizational paradigm inspired by the self-organizing properties of natural systems.
Professor Mihaela Ulieru
(From Organic Governance Through the Logic of Holonic Systems)
Emergent activity among self-organizing groups is seen throughout nature with ant colonies, flocks of birds, water and hurricanes. Hierarchies dictate a top-down approach that determines the actions of the individual parts of the whole. Similar to nature, holarchies are built upon the duality of autonomy and cooperation, which is most easily explained in the example of an orchestra. While the conductor keeps the orchestra together during the experience of a performance, the conductor is useless without the participation of the individual musicians. These musicians can play their instruments alone, and they can also aggregate to form the larger ensemble. Their autonomy is reflected in their decisions regarding how hard to hit a note, how far to swing it, and the timbre created by their interaction with the instrument.
Autonomy along with cooperation can lead to an exponentially organic performance.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s famous book of the same name, he explored the concept of epidemics through the characters of connectors, mavens, and salesmen. Connectors are those who live in between multiple disciplines, which is where the most exciting opportunities exist. Mavens are truly motivated by sharing knowledge and helping people. Salesmen can sell big ideas easily.
Be one of these three and find the other two to build your team.
Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push – in just the right place – it can be tipped.
(from The Tipping Point)
When walking a crazy idea down the path of uncertainty, always remember:
- Interaction builds momentum.
- Asymmetry is power.
- Change YOUR world to change THE world.
- Find patience and love for the long game.
- Learn from the self-organizing power of nature.
- Live at the intersection, share knowledge openly, or be able to tell a great story.
- Good things find ways to multiply.