85. The Science of Small-Win Innovation

Inertia is the enemy of innovation. We all know how hard it is to change personal habits. Even New Year’s resolutions last, on average, only 15 days. And, replacing weak corporate habits with robust ones can also be daunting.

What are small wins?

Small wins are progress points on the way to a goal, or mini-accomplishments that add up to a big goal. The big goal can be vague and intimidating, like “Prepare the house creatively for holiday guests”. To tackle it, the science of small wins suggests:

  • Start anywhere and then the bigger vision and innovation will emerge and crystalize
  • See how many 2-minute, clean-up actions you can do in a row
  • Say “YES!” upon each completion for a dopamine spritz to the brain
  • State out loud what your next deliberate action will be
  • Just keep moving
  • Spontaneous micro-choices spark accidental micro-innovations, and some take off!
  • Little chunks done in one room add to a room that is done well-enough
  • Move to the next room
  • Repeat
  • Working with a teammate multiplies both joy and grit

Make small, strategic bright-spot bets

Initially, no one wants to look at, own, or even solve what the company does poorly. Affirmative Inquiry advises us to instead tackle the bright spots better. For example: “Don’t lose any sales from your most net-profitable accounts.” And, “Try to win more sales – if possible – with some extra service value effort.”

Now break this big goal into small enough bites to not be fearful:

  • Do a customer profitability ranking report
  • Pick one top account that is the most friendly and open
  • Audit your product and paper flow through the account looking for replenishment inefficiencies
  • At every branch, have all employees memorize the top five most profitable customers per branch
  • Teach and empower them to perform “heroic acts” for these accounts
  • Start a weekly “Good News” (Praising Statement) publication to share your small wins

What will happen?

CEO audits of the best accounts yield huge, small wins—one account at a time. And, a customer replenishment system tune-up team will evolve for the top 1% of accounts. The published praising statements, initially earned by the top 5% of your can-do people, will rally most of the herd to follow.

In other words, inch-by-inch, small-win innovation is a cinch.


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