Small Improvements Can Produce Big Results

When athletes have found themselves trailing during the course of competition, I have often reminded them of the well-documented difference between boiling water and steam. At sea level, water is simply boiling at 211 degrees Fahrenheit. It becomes powerful steam at 212 degrees. Why share this fact with athletes? Well, in order to go from losing to winning, it is often not a matter of increasing the proficiency of something by 100 degrees or so. Instead, it can involve increasing several little things – or one thing – by one degree.
When 11 offensive football team members slightly improve their execution of a play, it can result in a good gain, a first down, or a touchdown. When a defensive team improves execution a little, it can prevent the success that an opponent has been having offensively. Of course, it may not require everyone on the team improving a little. Sometimes, a physical or mental mistake by one person is greatly hurting the entire group. 
A basketball player who was hitting less than 50 percent from the free throw line was advised by a consultant to change one small thing in his shooting technique. This slight change resulted in a 37 percent increase in free throws made. A golfer was advised to alter his back swing slightly; as a result, he cut his score by an average of three strokes per game. Batting coaches have been known to help baseball players improve their hitting averages or home run numbers tremendously by changing their grips, stances, or some other individual technique. 
This same truth is applicable in all of our lives as individuals and as members of groups. Let’s face it, we all have problems and we will always have problems on this earth. We can sit around and moan over our problems, look for one large solution, or we can work to discover if there might me some little things we can “turn up a little” in order to help solve the problems. What is one thing you can improve or do a little differently in order to help solve a problem as an individual or a group member?
When my son was majoring in mechanical and aerospace engineering in college, he was constantly dealing with “problem sets” in his classes. Of course, in physics or math, a “problem” refers to an inquiry that begins with given conditions and then the problem-solver has the task of investigating or demonstrating a fact, result, or law. In our daily lives at work, home, or in the community, our problems usually consist of recurring patterns we don’t like.  For example, you may want to accomplish more on the job but it seems like you are always running out of time. Why? After inspecting the situation, are there some things you can change slightly that will allow you to accomplish more in a shorter period of time?
Maybe there is someone at home, at work, or in the community with whom you constantly find yourself at odds. You would like to have a better relationship with this person but you find the conflict recurring. What is something you can do to help the situation? Is there anything you can you do or say differently? How can you slightly alter the manner in which you deal with this person?
If your office or workplace is disorganized, you may want to decide to spend fifteen minutes a day to get things straight rather than saying, “Eventually, I’m going to take a day or two and get things in order.” If you want to lose weight, what are some specific little things you can consciously make a habit of doing each day that will lead to more exercise and less eating? If you are having trouble communicating with people, observe the good communicators and become aware of some little things you can implement.
No matter what the problem, keep in mind that the small degree between boiling water and powerful steam can produce big results. 

Carl Mays, author of over a dozen books and speaker at over 2500 events, can be contacted at or 865-436-7478. His books, including “A Strategy For Winning,” “People of Passion,” “Anatomy Of A Leader” and “Are We Communicating Yet?” are available in stores, at, and on  


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