Small Step or Giant Leap?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

This iconic image of Earthrise over the Moonscape reveals the dynamic complexity of the living Earth contrasting starkly with the static simplicity of the dead Moon. The feeling of fragility that this picture evokes sounds a warning bell for us – “Death is Irreversible and Life is not Inevitable”. In reality this image was a small technical step that created a giant cultural leap.

And so it is with much of Improvement Science – the perception of the size of the challenge changes once the challenge is overcome. With the benefit of hindsight it was easy, even obvious – but with only the limit of foresight it looked difficult and obscure.  Our ability to challenge, learn and adopt a new perspective is the source of much gain and much pain. We gain the excitement of new understanding and we feel the pain of being forced to face our old ignorance.  Many of us deny ourselves the gain because we cannot face the pain – but it does not have to be that way. We have a tendency to store the pain up until we are forced to face it – and by this means we create what feel like insurmountable barriers to improvement.  There is an alternative – bite sized improvement – taking small steps towards a realistic goal that is on a path to our distant objective.  The small-step method has many advantages – we can do things that matter to us and are within our circle of influence; we can learn and practice the skills in safety; and we can start immediately.

In prospect it will feel like a giant leap and in retrospect it will look like a small step – that is the way of Improvement Science – and as our confidence and curiosity grow we take bigger steps and make smaller leaps.