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Mechanics of the Ideal

Small differences work to create significant change over time since they’re manageable, achievable, well within reach. Considered inconsequential at the outset, they become consequential. They’re additive, causing gradual change, incremental slight improvements, easily undervalued, ultimately producing great value. Any large undertaking––no matter what area––is best divided up into smaller, easily-managed segments.

Think small. An airline seeks to reduce its fuel costs. Surely this will require a costly overhaul of the design of the entire plane. No, simply reduce the weight of the paper used to make the onboard magazines: “United Airlines saved 170,000 gallons of fuel by reducing the weight of its inflight magazines…With 11 pounds of paper cut from each flight, the stats boil down to saving 170,000 gallons of fuel to the tune of saving $290,000 in fuel costs each year…”[1]

Think even smaller. For service providers, such as lawyers, there’s no similar method, right? Well, no. Any number of questions can be asked. Efficiency: How much time and effort is being expended? Expense: How much is it costing? Efficacy: Is the process working? Results: Have the results justified the time, effort, and expense? Take any aspect of the process and ruthlessly search for small changes. Deposition of an opposing expert…you’re paying for each page of the deposition, so skip the areas that can be saved for trial. Trial exhibits…what’s available online at no cost. Workup of the case…who do we actually need? Etc.

Small differences matter. Small differences matter. They matter because in competitive environments, it’s the small differences which determine outcome. “We searched for small improvements everywhere and found countless opportunities. Taken together, we felt they gave us a competitive advantage… We had three pillars to our approach…The first one was strategy. The second was human performance; we weren’t even thinking of cycling, but more about behavioral psychology and how to create an environment for optimum performance. The third principle was continuous improvement.”[2]

Small differences work since they take advantage of what best can be described as “mechanics of the ideal”––visualizing what steps would be required were the process to work flawlessly. If no clear picture exists as to what the process should most optimally look like, it will be difficult to create this as events unfold. Combining reality with an idealized vision of what aspects of reality can be improved––then some leverage exists. Mechanics of the ideal help tap into this––small differences visualized, then carried out. Probably a neglected area when its limitless potential is considered.

[1] United Airlines Saves 170,00 Gallons Of Fuel Using Lighter Paper For In-Flight Magazine, Inquisitr (January 21, 2018)

[2] Eben Harrell, How 1%Performance Improvements Led to Olympic Gold, Harvard Business Review (October 30,2015)( with Sir Dave Brailsford)