About 8 years ago I started learning Shaolin Kung Fu.

I was amazed at what my Shifu Brett Russell could do — knuckle drops on the floor, amazing powerful kicks and having his chest smashed by a bamboo pole without seemingly any effects.

As a middle-age man I was absolutely convinced that I could not do anything like this.

In fact, it seemed a bit overwhelming.

But then I started to train.

Slowly at first.

I worked on my fitness, flexibility and strength.

After a while through the guidance of Shifu Brett, regular training and practice I mastered a number of different forms and combinations.

Also through a special type of breathing and holding a push up position on my knuckles for a few seconds then minutes I started to build up my conditioning.

After a number of years i sat for a test which required 10 knuckle drops (i.e. standing up and dropping on my knuckles in a push up position) and being hit by a large bamboo pole across my chest.

Not to mention sparring with Shifu (I think he won on points) and showing him a number of complicated forms and combinations — I passed my test.

The point of this story is that we can all bring about large changes by breaking these down into smaller, bite size ones.

The idea of small wins was was most famously presented in a paper by Karl E. Weick, Redefining the Scale of Social Problems, American Psychologist, Jan 1984.

I quote:

‘.. social problems seldom get solved, because people define these problems in ways that overwhelm their ability to do anything about them.

Changing the scale of a problem can change the quality of resources that are directed at it.

Calling a situation a mere problem that necessitates a small win moderates arousal, improves diagnosis, preserves gains and encourages innovation.’

It is my experience, bringing innovation to life in a medium to large organisation is also an example of what Weick calls a large social problem and that many leaders feel simply overwhelmed by it.

Perhaps it is time to apply Weick’s notion of small wins to innovation itself.

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