In a fast paced environment, we notice things that are urgent, immediate and abrupt in nature. We forget to notice the gradual.
One small serving of unhealthy food doesn’t seem to harm but many such servings over a long duration increase the odds of having a health problem manifold. One conversation that went wrong now doesn’t seem to have any direct impact on a relationship but with every such conversation, trust is eroded till it reaches a point where relationship ends.
In an organization, this becomes even more complex where larger system is a collection of many independent sub-systems. Decisions and conversations in each of these sub-system affects the whole. The impact of one strategic failure may not be visible in a short term but can prove fatal in a long run.
The good news is: the converse is also true. Any great success is, almost always, a result of many small things done right. Careers are built one opportunity at time. Trust is earned one deed at a time, lessons are learned one experience at a time and great teams are built one conversation at a time. It is gradual and very powerful.
Why do we fail to notice the gradual then? Because we are too obsessed in responding to the immediate. Because doing takes a precedence over thinking. Because we fail to see living systems as “systems”. We work on components without considering the impact on the system as a whole.
This reminds me of a metaphor of a boiling frog.
A frog, when placed in boiling water will jump out immediately because of heat. However, if placed in cold water that is heated very slowly, the frog does not perceive the danger and enjoys the warmth. Incrementally, as warmth turns into heat, it becomes groggy unable to climb up. Eventually, it is boiled to death.
As leaders and professionals, our ability to notice the slow and subtle changes in the system is as important as our ability to respond to urgent and immediate changes.
In the novel “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway, one of the lead characters Mike Campbell is asked, “How did you go bankrupt?”. Mike responded, “Gradually… and then suddenly.”
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Photograph Courtesy: Chaula Vora – Red Eyed Frog, Costa Rica