As we celebrate a leap day in a leap year and the beginning of a new decade that I’ve called the “launch decade,” I couldn’t resist taking the occasion to reflect on the importance of leaps.
I’ve recently been writing about the importance of small groups in driving change and accelerating performance improvement. I’ve also been emphasizing the theme of “small moves, smartly made, can set big things in motion.”
When people see me talk about small groups and small moves, there’s a natural tendency to think that I am a fan of incrementalism. Far from it. Incrementalism will edge us over the cliff.
We need to resist the temptation to be incremental, and instead embrace the need to leap forward in an effort to capture opportunities that are expanding more rapidly than ever before.
Let’s start by exploring what it means to leap. While definitions differ, leaping is generally about moving quickly and with great force across a great distance, driven by some explicit and bold objective. It is the opposite of incremental movements, which tend to be pursued more slowly and are shaped by more modest objectives.
Smartly made small moves
When I talk about “small moves, smartly made,” my focus is on “smartly made” and I devoted a blog post to exploring what I really mean by that term. While there are many dimensions to smartly made, for the purpose of this post, let me highlight three of the dimensions that I mentioned: to have a clear and ambitious sense of destination by “zooming out,” to move quickly to action and to commit to rapidly scaling impact.
Doesn’t that begin to sound like a leap? So, why do I call them “small moves”?
They’re small moves because, in the early stages, they involve only a few people. That’s where my perspective on the power of small groups comes in.
Imagine, for a moment, what your success rate might be if you try to convince everyone in your large organization to make a leap at the same time. Good luck. Most would likely hold back and many would even try to undermine the effort to make a leap because of a fear of the consequences – never under-estimate the immune system!
Even if you could convince everyone to line up and make the leap together, the leap would likely be an uncoordinated mess, with many leapers colliding with, or tripping over, other leapers. Without any experience, the leaps would quickly fall apart, leading those who were brave enough to participate in the first round to hold back on the next round. Lesson learned, these leaps are dangerous.
Now, think about what might be possible if you focus initially on mobilizing a small group of participants (I’m talking about 3 – 15 people at most) who are deeply passionate about the opportunity to make a big difference in a short period of time. Properly coached, members in this small group could form deep, trust-based relationships with each other and provide each other with encouragement, while at the same time holding each other accountable for making the leap together.
They would likely be able to successfully leap far greater distances than any individual might be able to accomplish on their own. Their accomplishment together would encourage others to step forward and become excited about the opportunity to make one of the next leaps. There would still be fear (leaps are very scary), but the knowledge that they will make the leap with a small group of people they trust, would help to overcome that fear.
Balancing short and long horizons
And there’s more. These are also small moves because they focus on reaching some tangible destination within a short period of time – 6-12 months at most. That also helps to overcome fear because the small group will not be up in the air for an extended period of time – they have an opportunity to quickly reach their destination and to learn quickly from the experience. That’s very different from “big moves” that often require 5-10 years before the results become apparent – that’s a long time to be up in the air, taking great risk, without any sense of achieving what was intended.
As the initial leap plays out and the participants learn from their experience, later leaps can become much bolder in terms of defining the distance that will be traveled over the next short horizon. We’re not just going to make the same leap over and over. We’re going to seek to expand the scope of the leap, accelerating our ability to reach more and more distant destinations in each 6-12 month leap cycle.
The key here is to frame the short-term destinations in the context of a much longer-term view of an inspiring opportunity that is very different from anything that has been achieved to date. It’s that longer-term view that helps to pick a short-term destination that has the greatest potential in accelerating movement towards the longer-term opportunity. Without that context, we run a significant risk of becoming too incremental in our approach, rather than challenging ourselves to make a really bold leap. The balance between longer-term opportunity and short-term destinations is the essence of the zoom out, zoom in approach to strategy that I’ve written about here.
The role of platforms
If we’re serious about leaping – moving quickly and with great force across a great distance – that also will increase our focus on platforms. People who leap from the right kinds of platforms are likely to travel much greater distances than those who just try to leap on their own.
In this context, platforms involve ways to leverage the resources and expertise of a growing number of third parties who participate on the platform. The small groups that I’ve been talking about don’t operate in isolation. They’re constantly looking for ways to leverage their efforts by connecting with others and scaling their efforts through creation spaces. With increasingly powerful and pervasive digital infrastructures, the ability to connect with a growing number of others becomes easier and easier and can significantly accelerate progress. Network effects are a powerful accelerator.
Small groups that harness the power of platforms are constantly asking where and how they can leverage the resources and expertise of others to come up with better approaches to the next leap, so that they can travel much greater distances much more quickly. That’s what helps them to maintain their small groups while at the same time accelerating their progress.
Leaps are a powerful way to launch us on the path to finally harnessing the exponentially expanding opportunities created by the Big Shift. As we move into the launch decade, we need to find ways to make smart leaps that can help us to learn faster together. Let’s greet this new decade by exploring the leaps that could have the greatest impact in a short period of time.