All of us get caught up in tradition. In my experience, it’s unintentional, but we inevitably tend to gravitate to the traditional way of thinking or trying things. Sometimes these things work, and sometimes they don’t. When we fail at something and continue to use the same method, we typically begin to try harder. We do this as we are under the impression that what we are trying is the right or only way. However, as Bhagwati Prasad suggests in the following story, trying harder isn’t necessarily the right way to achieve greater success.
I’m sitting in a quiet room at the Millcroft Inn, a peaceful little place hidden back among the pine trees about an hour out of Toronto. It’s just past noon, late July, and I’m listening to the desperate sounds of a life or death struggle going on a few feet away.
There’s a small fly burning out the last of its short life’s energies in a futile attempt to fly through the glass of the windowpane. The whining wings tell the poignant story of the fly’s strategy – try harder.
But it’s not working.
The frenzied effort offers no hope for survival. Ironically, the struggle is part of the trap. It is impossible for the fly to try hard enough to succeed at breaking through the glass. Nevertheless, the little insect has staked its life on reaching its goal through raw effort and determination.
The fly is doomed. It will die there on the windowsill. Across the room 10 steps away, the door is open. Ten seconds of flying time, and this small creature could reach the outside world it seeks. With only a fraction of the effort now being wasted, it could be free of this self-imposed trap. The breakthrough possibility is there. It would be so easy.
Why doesn’t this fly try another approach, something dramatically different? How did it get so locked in on the idea that this particular route and determined effort offer the most promise for success? What logic is there in continuing, until death, to seek a breakthrough with ‘more of the same.’
No doubt this approach makes sense to the fly. Regrettably, it’s an idea that will kill.
‘Trying harder’ isn’t necessarily the solution to achieving more. It may not offer any real promise for giving what you want out of life. Sometimes, in fact, it’s a big part of the problem.
If you stake your hopes for a breakthrough on trying harder than ever, you may kill your chances of success.
Self-discipline and persistence are true virtues. Over a lifetime, they can make a powerful contribution to success and achievement. They are fundamental to the development of your talents. It’s extremely important to apply yourself diligently, and sometimes, staying power is what delivers a big win.
But ordinarily, you will find that trying harder produces only incremental gains, not quantum leaps. Also, keep in mind that sometimes trying harder offers little more than a straight path to burnout. Attempting to succeed through ‘more of the same,’ being resolute and relying on committed effort, can blind you to better pathways.
If you want to make a quantum leap, quit thinking about trying harder. More efforts aren’t the answer. Get ruthless about trying something different. Abandon the status quo. Change your behavior. Look for a paradoxical move. Ricochet. If you’re trying to climb over the wall, open a door and walk through. If you’re pushing against the river, try going with the flow. Use finesses instead of effort. The tendency when you stall out or begin to level off in your performance is to go back to the basics and ‘do what you do best.’ But doing what you do best could be the worst thing you could do.
Quantum leaps come when you seek the elegant solution. So look for an approach characterized by simplicity, precision, efficiency and neatness. Call for a fresh perspective, a deft move, a path of less resistance.
As Prasad notes, “Trying harder produces only incremental gains, not quantum leaps.” As this season winds down, use this time to develop new ideas and try something different. Shake things up in 2017, and change the way you do business. Your new idea may not only change the way you operate, but it also may change the way that our industry does business!