When You Only Have The Answer

When you only have the answer it is easy to walk around looking for the right equation to make your answer compute.  If you run a school that believes your budget only balances when you have 450 students enrolled it is easy to deduce that you need 50 students per grade.  However, we rarely ask the question, “how small could we be?”  What if we only enrolled 300 students?  What would that do to the learning environment, the effectiveness of the teachers, program selection, resources, partnerships?  It is a question worthy of exploring for many enterprises.


Kai Ryssdal from Marketplace radio interviewed Malcom Gladwell about his new book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Batteling Giants. One of Gladwell’s more provocative questions is, ‘how small can we be?’  He suggested his fellow Canadians ask this question of their country.  Does Canada as a series of micro-states make more sense than the current and vast version.  It leads to an intriguing conversation that does not always have easy answers.

A powerful exercise from the the Heath Brother’s book, Decisive is to run the vanishing options test.  Start stripping away the peripheral features of a program or organization to see when it becomes uncoupled from its purpose.  A summer camp may realize that it could continue to deliever its core belief without archery, arts and crafts, swimming, skit night, and an overnight backpack.  But if they removed the nightly campfire the experience would fundamentally change.  The campfire offers the platform on which community is created, stories that highlight the camp’s values are exchanged, and the bond of friendship are solidified.  As they begin to rebuild the camp from its core there is a greater appreciation for the programs layer on top of the fundamental portion.

Try it today.  Ask how how small your cause can be?  Try running the vanishing options test.  Move forward with more certainty about what is nonnegotiable and what adds color to your efforts.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s