[The following is an excerpt from a book I’m currently writing for self-publication later this year (2018). Any feedback is welcome!]
Warren Buffett famously said, “I don’t look to jump over 7-foot bars; I look around for 1-foot bars that I can step over.” Unfortunately, within the field of education, we ignore 1-foot bars and instead seek 7-foot bars and try to jump over them right away. “We’ve got to do it,” we say, “FOR THE KIDDOS!” Then we (possibly) don’t clear the bar, and we’re back to square one next school year.
I’m equating 1-foot bars with simpler, or smaller, task size. If you break up tasks that are easy to accomplish, then you’re setting the organization up for bigger successes in the future. It reminds me of radio-host Dave Ramsey’s strategy for getting out of debt. He suggests that people differentiate their various forms of debt, and then place them in order from the smallest amount (e.g. $1,000 on a credit card, perhaps) to the largest amount (car or house payment). The person then starts paying down the smallest amount first because it’s easiest to accomplish and get out of the way. Once that’s finished, the person goes on to the next biggest amount and pays that off. Then the next one. Then the next one, until he or she is debt free. Ramsey calls this the “Snowball” method.
The same idea is explained In the book Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath as they expand upon Buffett’s thought:
“A business cliche commands us to ‘raise the bar.’ But that’s exactly the wrong instinct if you want to motivate a reluctant Elephant. You need to lower the bar. Picture taking a high-jump bar and lowering it so far that it can be stepped over (page 129).”
It would behoove leaders to follow Buffett, Ramsey, and the Heath brothers’ leads. Give your people 1-foot bars to step over. Once they begin clearing those easily on a regular basis, then you can lift the bar higher, à la the Snowball method.
Let’s say you set up a 1-foot bar and soon discover it’s actually a 7-foot bar that staff members can’t clear. As quickly as possible, decide whether you want to train teachers to clear that high bar or cut your losses and abandon the practice. There’s no shame in stating, “This is not for us–at least right now.” Remember, saying a thousand no’s is better than saying a thousand yes’s. The best teacher teams I’ve seen are able to take the tools and strategies at their disposal and synthesize them in a way that’s not overwhelming.