Why Small Decisions Matter

In business, the conventional wisdom is that what matters is making “the big decision,” landing “the big client,” or becoming the “Next Big Thing.” That’s why “getting big” dominates the thinking of many small business owners, often to their detriment.

The reality is that seemingly small decisions can have an enormous impact on the success of one’s business. That’s because any great outcome is the result of a series of much decisions. Over time, those small decisions can rapidly snowball, leading to outcomes that would have been impossible to predict at the outset.

In cases where the snowballing impact is negative, it can be described as the tyranny of small decisions. I didn’t answer the phone… I didn’t go to that reception… so I didn’t get that new investor… so I didn’t land that game-changing new account. See? Each small decision leads to a series of small outcomes, all of which leads to a final significant result.

In other situations the result can be positive; it can be described as the windfall of small decisions. I held the elevator for that person… she thanked me and asked me a question… and eventually became my largest customer.

The reality is that there are few overnight successes in business. The mainstream business media may try to create the illusion that a company can rocket from zero to $1 million in sales overnight. However, ask any successful entrepreneur — what appears on the surface to be an overnight sensation is really the result of years of hard work, dedication, and many small decisions. It’s only after carefully researching a market, trying out various options that might work, and experiencing failure that a company finally hits it big.

Something very extraordinary happens when you start to think small instead of big — you free your company to evolve steadily over time into what it should be, instead of forcing it to be something it shouldn’t. So focus less on big, transformative change and focus more on steady, evolutionary change that lays the groundwork for future success.

The world of sports offers some valuable lessons for small business owners about the power of thinking small. Take professional baseball, for example. The MLB season is a long, grueling grind of 162 games, and then a long postseason. A season that starts in early spring ends in late autumn. If you think big too soon — winning the World Series! — you’ll inevitably start making the wrong decisions throughout the season.

That’s why the best professional baseball managers will caution their players to take one game at a time. They’ll break down a long season into a cycle of home stands and road trips, and then those periods into even smaller series, those series into some individual games, and then those individual games into a “game within the game.”

As a result, the best baseball managers seemingly always have their best pitchers lined up to face their toughest rivals. They have their best players rested for the post season. And they’ve given some of their plenty of opportunities throughout the year to prove themselves so that they will be ready when the big moment comes. A team that wins the World Series at the end has made hundreds — if not thousands — of small crucial decisions over the course of the season, not just one big decision.

In short, small decisions matter. It’s important for any business manager or executive to break down a big project, a big decision or a big event into a series of smaller components. It’s only then that you can realize how small decisions made at the outset can have a huge impact at the very end.

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