In Praise of Incrementalism
I realize that our stories might only become of interest to people from the point on where the big public decides: “Now they have achieved something” or “now they are successful”. Unfortunately, but understandably, achievement and success is mostly measured by material standards. But! Those material standards are in most cases just a reflection of the result of the incremental steps ‘successful’ people have been taking over months and months, years and years, maybe even decades (patience is a virtue…).
In our first blogpost we referred to that first step already. Let’s take an actual journey (as in: travel/holiday/vacation) this time, as I think and hope most people can relate to that. What would you say would be that first step? When you’re waving your family and/or friends goodbye at the airport? When you get in your car with your caravan behind (as we proudly do in Holland)? Or when you book your ticket? No… Of course not. Of course it’s debatable, but let’s say the first step is making the decision (inspirational here, practical here and here) to go on a trip you have always wanted. After that, step 2, you might make an inventory of what is needed to make the trip.
3. Money is needed for everything on that list, so you get a job
4. You save money
5. You buy a suitcase/backpack
6. Read about your destination
7. You get those vaccines
8. Download Duolingo
57. Buy a cap and a shirt of Ronaldo
69. Buy socks and sandals
100. Land in Brasil!!
That is THE way to reach your destination. If it’s about traveling, about making that promotion, about reaching your top performance, or making change on whatever scale. Start with your decision. Between your ears, that’s where everything starts, from going to the toilet to being an astronaut. I’m not saying they’re all at the same level (although people in space have to go for #2 as well…) and equally achievable, but it all does start between your ears. After that, you have to take that first, actionable, incremental step. Let’s call this procedure, or method, or philosophy as you will, incrementalism.
On a more serious note, when you have to find a job, and you have been sitting at home for a while already. Getting that job might seem like a giant leap. And still, that giant leap consists of incremental steps! Experiment with a variety of steps, and especially the ones that are slightly outside of your comfort zone. What is there to loose? Your job?? Exactly… This implies, that when a goal you desperately want to reach seems so far a way, it can paralyze you. Incrementalism is certainly a way to decrease or diminish that paralysis.
The Inventor of the Wheel?
And of course I’m not the first one who has come up with this. Everyone who has done some type of education, middle school even, knows about the concept of setting Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely goals. Indeed, SMART goals. I think the realisation of an incrementalist approach comes before setting SMART goals, but they fit perfectly on the same page. Another interesting topic for everyone to dive into is the difference between a Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset, as posed by Carol Dweck. Growth Mindset people believe that they can reach a certain goal with incremental efforts.
Who Are You?!
Now… I hear you thinking, “who the f… are you to tell us this, Dannyboy?!”. And I can share with you two sides of the same coin. A ‘success’ side, and a ‘learning’ side.
The success story is one that I do not share very often, because I usually don’t care to talk about my successes to others. No, that’s not true, but it’s true for this particular success! But ok, for the sake of the argument, this is the best example for me at this moment in time. With an incremental approach I managed to win the Dutch championships as a percussionist seven times in a row when I was a teenager, and one time I had been lucky enough to win the World Music Concours with two musician friends of mine. I never considered it to be something special, and that is one of the reasons I (somewhat) unfortunately never decided to choose that as my future. Thinking back about it, it actually is something to be proud of… So yes, you can consider this a pat on my own back! Anyways, these championships didn’t come in one day. I developed a passion for getting better and better at it and I really practiced hours a day (ask my mother, I predict she’ll still roll her eyes). Incrementally I upped the level. I lost my first Dutch Championship, after that not one more. The irony is that I can tell this in hindsight. At that time I failed to learn mindfully that incremental steps were the way, as the other side of the coin will point out.
Or we learn…
One of the most influential, instructive experiences in my life was starting a business, the other side of the coin. I started with a friend and we managed to get an investor together with his legal adviser. I knew nothing about the business. My friend, who was in the middle of the industry, had been asking me for four years because he was convinced we could do it, and that period of my life was the ideal moment. I jumped into it and was determined to learn along the way. So much for the context. We started slow, and in time it got better. BUT, one of our problems was that we had a ton of ideas. That sounds great, and it actually is. But, as said before, patience is a virtue. We wanted to apply and implement them all at once, in stead of solidifying the projects we were at already. It wasn’t just a problem, it turned out to be a mistake (or learning experience, if you will). If I would’ve consciously learned from my other side of the coin, I would’ve taken the incrementalist approach and hit the break a lot harder, and we might still have had the company.
So! To close the circle, what does make this blog interesting? It’s proof of another incremental step towards magnanimity and hopefully a lot of stuff that comes with it. If this doesn’t lie within your scope of interests, then indeed this might not be as interesting as the title suggests. On the other hand, maybe you can relate to it, maybe you get some inspiration out of it, maybe you have something to add or deduct, or maybe it helps you to take that first incremental step.