Take Smaller Steps

My wife, Vicki, and I had talked about taking dance lessons for well over twenty years. I even added it to my bucket list. This winter I took the approach of ‘just do it’ and spent the money on a gift certificate for a series of lessons. Now we had to walk our talk or lose money on the deal.

The phrase I heard over and over from our instructor was to “take smaller steps”. I guess I instinctively felt the need to move around the dance floor and cover ground. The problem was my wife couldn’t match those steps and follow my lead. The smaller the steps, the more fluid the dancing was.

The weekend after this dancing revelation finally sank in was one where I was tasked with yard work – an acre’s worth of edging, weeding, transplanting and mowing. As I started early and at a feverish pace to get it all done in one weekend, my wife looked at me and said, “take smaller steps”. She knew that at my desired pace I would be wiped out in six hours and need three days to recover; where with a “smaller steps” attitude I would cover more ground (pun intended).

As a defensive back coach in football, when I teach backpedaling I stress smaller, quicker steps. It keeps the player’s feet underneath them allowing the player to react quicker to changes in the receiver’s route as well as tackle better. On rainy days, it helps prevent a player from slipping.

This concept is different than going ‘too fast’ or as a former boss once told me, “Go slow to go fast”. It is not about the pace of change or movement, but the size of each piece of change or movement. Think about it, smaller steps give you more balance and control. You are less likely to get out of whack.

Things in life or in business don’t always go the way we expect, sometimes we get blindsided or we are involved with an uneven situation fraught with potholes. If we are taking large steps, we can’t recover or adjust. It is difficult to keep our footing. Smaller steps prevent over committing. Missteps from smaller steps can be recovered from better than from big ones. I have seen where a long stride in running stretches the IT band, aggravates it, causing pain and injury. Large steps can stress you, your company, your team – causing pain and aggravation.

When I reflected more about my dancing with bigger steps, I had to admit there was this desire to be noticed. Dancing is a team endeavor, two people interdependent of each other for the dance to work. When one is concerned with themselves being noticed the dance suffers.

In the early 1940’s, a small-step work improvement approach was developed in the USA, called Training Within Industry (TWI Job Methods). Instead of encouraging large, radical changes, these methods recommended that organizations introduce small improvements, preferably ones that could be implemented on the same day. The major reason was that during WWII there was neither time nor resources for large and innovative changes. As part of the rebuilding effort after the War ended, American occupation forces brought the TWI program to Japan. It was titled “Improvement in Four Steps” or “Kaizen eno Yon Dankai”. Thus, creating the kaizen or continuous improvement movement in Japan that is alive and prevalent today.

In the Bible, we have notable examples of people taking small steps with no intention of being noticed or risk of over stepping or a miss-stepping. Consider the widow’s paltry offering of a few coins that some deemed unworthy. Yet, God has used her act to inspire people for generations. Or the widow of Zarephath giving bread to the hungry Elijah; or Dorcas using a sewing needle to serve and honor God.

“You need to be content with small steps. That’s all life is. Small steps that you take every day so when you look back down the road it all adds up and you know you covered some distance.” – Katie Kacvinsky

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