“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – Chinese proverb

shallow focus of sprout

The singer of a band I was in right after high school told me he wanted to do a cover of the David Lee Roth song “ShyBoy”.  Roth, after separating from Van Halen, put together an all-star band and this song was on their first album.  The song opens up with Steve Vai doing a blistering guitar lick that’s played at 220 beats per minute.  It’s only about 10 seconds long (you can hear it here, it starts at 11 seconds in).  I remember thinking there was no way I’d ever be able to play this.  It became one of the first experiences I had with something James Clear refers to as “1% Better Every Day”.  I spent about 30 minutes a day first memorizing the notes in that intro.  And then I practiced it with a metronome starting out at roughly half speed. If you’re not familiar, a metronome is a time keeping device that “beeps” at a whatever beats per minute you set it to helping musicians to practice consistent timing.   Every day I would practice with a metronome the last 5 minutes of it turning it up a few clicks faster than the day before.  It took about 4 weeks to get there but I finally could play the song at the album speed.  Four weeks of practicing 30 minutes a day for a 10 second part!

James Clear’s book “Atomic Habits” is about making habitual changes that lead one to fulfill potential.  The inertia to make change is often what holds us back, particularly if a goal looks to big or too far off. But by focusing on making tiny improvements, just 1% change, we give ourselves a target that’s easier to fathom and follow through on.  And when compounded, these 1% changes make a massive difference.  James suffered a serious baseball injury getting hit in the head and was in a medically induced coma for days followed by months of rehab and dealing with double vision.  He used this mindset later to make a comeback as a player and would go onto play in college.

“We all face challenges in life.  This injury was one of mine and the experience taught me a critical lesson: changes that seem small and unimportant at first will compound into remarkable results if you’re willing to stick with them [sometimes for years].”

Financial advisors use this concept to explain basic investing concepts but it applies to many things. Product management is about maximizing the value of what teams of people (designers, engineers, analysts etc.) are building. At first it may not seem like it’s making much difference. But over time, this slight difference in optimizing a teams’ efforts creates a really big difference in outcomes. Discipline and focus on this small difference in progress are keys to accomplishing large projects that seem daunting at first!

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