I think it’s pretty normal, when we think about growth in areas that are important to us, to envision bold, big moves. Sometimes, it’s this image we have of ourselves succeeding in big ways that works against us making changes and moving forward. The very idea of making big changes, of taking huge risks and failing in that context can prevent us from even trying.
Do we really need to make big moves to grow and progress? I think the answer is “no”. In fact, I think making big moves, in many cases, isn’t even the most effective way to make progress. Take this video by skateboarder Isamu Yamamoto, for example.
Clearly, the tricks and movements he makes took years to master. Nobody who watches this routine would believe that the routine was created as a single unit, in its entirety. Likely, Mr. Yamamoto learned each trick and movement as a singular unit, and created this routine by stringing them all together. While the things we want to accomplish aren’t always so easily broken down into component parts, with a little thought and planning, we can usually find some ways to “baby step” toward our goals.
The advantage of this, of course, is that if or when we fail, we (1) fail in smaller ways, with (hopefully) smaller drawbacks/consequences, and (2) by focusing on small parts, we can direct our energy to mastering more specific aspects of the problem – just like Mr. Yamamoto.
There are two different approaches to breaking things down into smaller steps or incremental risks. The first, I’ll call segmentation. In this approach, we might break down different elements of the challenge and then once mastered independently, we reassemble them into a whole which is much more attainable. An example of this might be an obstacle course. If we take the time to practice and learn each obstacle on its own, we have the opportunity to focus our effort and attention on the needs of each one. Once mastered, we will be more ready to tackle the whole thing.
The second approach to incremental risk could be called iteration or progression. This is more appropriately used when the pieces of a bigger goal are better or even required to be completed in order, starting at the beginning. The key to using this strategy is our ability to fail at any point in the progression, and still return to the beginning to start again. In many cases, this is achieved by lowering the stakes for failure (see Failure Judo: Practice later in this series). As example of this might be the learning and performance of a piece of music. While you can rehearse segments of music, there is some value to the continuity and context of an earlier part in learning a later part. However, to lower the stakes of failure, we might rehearse the piece without any kind of audience, so we can fail without consequence. More on managing risk tomorrow in Failure Judo: Manage Risk.