Don't boil the ocean

It’s a truism in Western culture that if you set your goals high, even if you don’t reach them you’ve gotten far. That’s not necessarily true in business or project management.

“Boiling the ocean” is a word-picture for trying too hard, attempting too much:

When a company boasts that it is going to sell to the whole world, or transform its industry, it is often accused of “boiling the ocean.”

Companies are well-known for this kind of hubris, but the same can be true for an individual or a project.

The sad reality for those who want to change the world in one fell swoop is that change comes about one decision at a time, one relationship at a time, one person at a time. Sometimes lightning strikes, the stars align, and things happen quicker … and that’s what we all hope for.

But even when lightning does strike, one of two things usually turns out to be true.

It was a fad
Either the base was not built … there was no depth to the change … there was insufficient attention paid to relationships and communication and investment in a core of evangelists, true believers who are also pushing the change …

Or it’s a true movement
The work was done … there was sufficient depth to the movement … the change is real … and it has sustaining power.

The upshot
The upshot is that for sustaining change to happen, the hard yards have to be won. There’s no substitute for the grinding, meticulous work of preparing the soil, watering the plant, and weeding the garden.

Even if lightning strikes and you “get lucky,” without this work the best you’ll be is a one-hit wonder.


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