An article from the always excellent Farnam Street caught my eye today. It discussed those moments when success actually happens. We are always after the secret, aren’t we? That ingredient that we seem to miss that simply causes success. Why is it that others seem to have this secret ingredient and we don’t?
The logical (and correct) answer, of course, is that there isn’t a secret ingredient to success. There is no miracle moment. Success comes from just one more step in a long chain of steps.
Nature shows us this principle. We plant a lime tree and it takes years to produce a reasonable crop (mine has taken about 4 years so far – first good crop this year). What is visible to us is this small green tree, growing a bit but not wanting to produce anything for our next Margarita! But what’s not visible to us (and what’s not visible tends to be boring!) is all the work going on in the ground. The tree’s root system is working overtime, forming the foundations and storing the nutrients required for it to do its thing when it is ready. It’s taken time and hard work – none of it visible to us.
The first insight – Not all progress is visible. Don’t beat yourself up when things aren’t visible. Doesn’t mean progress is not happening.
The second insight – consistently doing boring things well leads to extreme performance. A business will grow and thrive if its foundations are strong and adaptable. If its systems are well formed and its people are aligned, magic can happen. But building those attributes takes time and effort for seemingly invisible progress. I always remember the principle of improvement in playing tennis (not that I ever experienced it, mind you!). People love those miracle winning shots along the baseline, those wonderful touch shots that just make it over the net. But the best players don’t spend their time practicing those shots, they practice not making mistakes. They practice the ground shots that they play 60-70% of the time and they practice getting them over the net and back into play. Boring!
Third insight – we need to be smart enough to know we are making progress even when there are no obvious signs of progress. If we have put the work in, if we have made the effort, we are making progress. And like my Margarita’s this Christmas, that lime juice has come from many years of invisible, boring, hard work!
Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it was built brick by brick.
Keep well, keep making the effort, and make sure you smell the flowers
Note: my thanks to Shane Parrish at Farnham Street for the original article and the start point for other insights