Greetings. My first posting. Bear with me as I get the hang of this. I was taken aback by the latest Fast Company on the topic of courage. I was particularly struck by the article by Kasparov. In it he talks about losing a chess match because he was playing sloppy and failed to take a pawn early in the match — it was a move he could have done at any time, but didn't. And in the end, as the board got messier and messier, he paid for not tending to the simple act of taking that pawn. Ultimately, the board go so messy, he lost the match — the pawn was the culprit of cascading doom that filled the game.

Which got me wondering whether the reverse is true: Is it possible to tend to the little moves day by day and along the way achieve huge transformation within an organization? The pawn, in fact, is always there for the taking, but how few leaders take the small moves to enable large ones later. Thoughts?

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    I believe your comment and question directly relate to some of the thinking around complexity and chaos theory, and complex adaptive systems. Coordinating the motion of complex natural groups, such as birds flocks or fish schools, can be done through the use of simple rules; e.g., coordinate steering behavior based on the position and velocity of nearby flockmates. This has been demonstrated using computer models ( The same principles apply for organizations. Simple rules are a means to influence behavior on a large scale, although the behavioral change at the individual level may be very subtle. The real art and difficulty comes in developing such rules, which take into account strategy and mission. Such rules guide people on what to do but not on how to do it. This leaves open the potential for the individual to apply creativity and innovation in accomplishing the rules.

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    Isn't this part of what Jim Collins got at with his "flywheel" concept in Good to Great? You keep doing small things on an ongoing basis and eventually the wheel starts turning and unleashes an unstoppable momementum? One problem I see with some groups I work with is that they don't see the small, incremental improvements as "real" innovations or sexy enough to devote energies to. Instead they would rather sit around and debate what the next great thing might be instead of playing/discovering their way into a greater thing than what they are currently doing.

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    It seems that businesspeople are always jumping-in without seeing the whole board or taking the early pawn (is there any better analogy for business than chess?). It is most certainly the small, early moves that set the stage for future success. I spend much of my time working with market researchs of one type or another and generally work with clients in the earlier stages of product development, etc. It is always fascinating to see how greatly the outcomes differ between those who make the right small moves early and those who don't.

    Great question, Keith. I look forward to more of your posts.

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    Is it possible? You bet. In corporate settings, these small moves or steps are fundamental to success. Simplest example: "pats-in-the-back." They are so easy to do and so critical to creating or sustaining day-to-day momentum, but not all managers or corporate teams believe in them. Put the same group of people in an organization in a soccer or basketball team, and you're more than likely to see more of it, and other "small things". Why? Because in a game of sports, success is clear to everyone: the team must come together. So you'll see even the weakest players, sometimes making the dumbest moves, getting pats in the back accompanied with comments like "good try" or "good try, I was in the open". In team-sports, it will be very clear to everyone that individual thinking will likely lead to failure.

    You are more likely to find start-ups and entrepreneurial teams in big organizations focusing on executing small moves -- because they can almost taste failure, and success. They are very connected to their end-game, world dominating vision or whatever-you-wanna-call-it.

    Size aside, the stories of great organizations are stories of great teams. In them, are leaders who articulate the long and difficult road ahead -- no matter how straight & easy it looks today. Leaders who narrate both the story of how the team can fail, and the story of how it can emerge victorious through strength and discipline. In them are people who believe big meetings, plans and projects are second to team energy and emotion. People who believe any success is temporary if attention is paid only to large things, or moves.