What are small wins?

What are small wins?

The concept of small wins was first coined by Organizational theorist Karl Weick.

He made the point that many social problems seem so big (e.g. world hunger) that they feel overwhelming resulting in inaction and feelings of helplessness.

I quote from his seminal 1984 article on small wins -Redefining the scale of social problems:

“The massive scale on which social problems are conceived often precludes innovative action because the limits of bounded rationality are exceeded…People often define social problems in ways that overwhelm their ability to do anything about them.”

It is my experience that many managers and leaders have the same feeling.

They are confronted with massive and accelerating change.

And to make matters worse the only model they are given is Clayton Christensen’s disruption model.

No wonder they feel intimidated.

According to Karl Weick (and my experience) the most effective way to cope with this situation is to adopt a small wins approach.

What is a small win?

According to Weick:

A small win is a concrete, complete, implemented outcome of moderate importance.

By itself, one small win may seem unimportant.

A series of wins at small but significant tasks, however, reveals a pattern that may attract allies, deter opponents, and lower resistance to subsequent proposals.

Why does the small wins approach work?

According to Karl Weik:

Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win.

When a solution is put in place, the next solvable problem often becomes more visible.

This occurs because new allies bring new solutions with them and old opponents change their habits.

Additional resources also flow toward winners, which means that slightly larger wins can be attempted.

I believe that the small wins approach is a very powerful one.

It can be applied with great success to innovation, change, strategy, productivity, engagement and leadership.

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