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Friday, December 21, 2012

Lean Quote: Don't Try to Boil the Ocean

On Fridays I will post a Lean related Quote. Throughout our lifetimes many people touch our lives and leave us with words of wisdom. These can both be a source of new learning and also a point to pause and reflect upon lessons we have learned. Within Lean active learning is an important aspect on this journey because without learning we can not improve.

"Don't try to boil the ocean." — Meg Whitman

If you haven’t heard this phrase before, it’s used as an illustrative term for saying you’re trying to do too much with the resources you have available—perhaps to the point of detriment. So when someone says to you, "Don't try to boil the ocean" they are saying you don't have enough of something needed to achieve such a large-scale goal. Unfortunately, we tend to tackle too many goals, overwhelming and exhausting ourselves before measurable progress is made. Many think they can fix everything and address every concern, which means little or nothing gets done, and then they lose focus and move on. All too often these companies lack a sense of realism and priority when dealing with problems. Sound familiar?

In the midst of a world of problems, avoid the temptation to boil the ocean. You can‘t do everything at once, as much as you would like to. You will kill yourself with stress and discouragement if you try. Change the things you can. Focus on conquering what is around you. Force yourself to focus, completing one or two tasks very well. Create action plans for dealing with one or two issues – achieving visible progress will serve to keep individuals interested, invested in the process, and give them a sense of accomplishment. Opportunities will present themselves when you do that. Those opportunities will then put a different set of challenges around you to tackle.

There is the easy and the difficult, the simple and the complex, the achievable and the ambitious. Attempting to “boil” the ocean is not a practical task to take on due to its sheer magnitude–failure is a near certainty. When trying to solve too large a problem or too many problems at once you make your chances of success slim. The better solution is to look to your strategic plan and objectives. Pick one or two activities that directly support these objectives. Do them. Actually accomplish. Don’t get part way on many tasks, but finish a few important tasks. 

Take a cup from your ocean of work and boil it instead of trying to boil the ocean to get a cup of water.

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