Small wins grow into big wins

I'm currently working on a presentation that includes some of the lessons learned over my past two decades in learning and development. Yikes! That many years? How to pick the best ideas to share in an hour? So I'm thinking out loud a little today. Several of the stories I came up with showcase a common theme - getting small wins to make bigger gains. I think this idea gets lost sometimes. 

People don't think the little things matter, but they do. The little things add up to big things. Little wins show progress and that is a huge motivator. And if you offer learners or employees a way of making that progress visible, watch out. You might just be onto something big. 

One time I proved this to someone was when the director of HR came to me for help updating a very tired, old slide deck that was full of screen after eye-and-brain-numbing pie charts (don't even get me started on the pie charts), He wanted me to add another slide with, you guessed it, another pie chart. Well, I had developed enough of a relationship with him to be able to say gently ... NO ... or rather, how about we try something a little different with this one. 

I work up an example and see how you like it. I also explained that when you show people slide after slide that look pretty much the same (all the pies were shades of green and grey because of our branding and template, zzzzzz) and people stop paying attention. I knew he felt strongly about this information so I wanted to help him make it as powerful and meaningful to others as possible. 

So he trusted me and let me change the one slide. When he came back from the meeting, guess which slide everyone was talking about? And that is how you have to do it sometimes, one slide at a time. 

Now it's sometimes the reverse and sometimes it's the little things that can really be distracting to people and throw them off course. This was something I was reminded of recently while participating in a MOOC presented by and Ivy League school, so this wasn't a group of people unfamiliar with education. 

In general the course was very good, but there was this one thing that kept jumping out at me. When I clicked on a link to go to other content in the course I was sometimes brought to a new browser window but sometimes it opened in the same browser window. Sometimes it download a file. Sometimes the files were in Microsoft Word. Sometimes PDF. Sometimes ... well by now I think you get the drift. None of this was a problem per se. 

I was able to navigate the content but these small inconsistencies break the train of thought as I have to adjust to where the link took me or what application and so on. I was OK with it but kept thinking that others, less accustomed to taking courses online would have to spend more energy processing this. There are certainly times you want to change up the appearance of things to make them stand out or mix visuals with words in different ways to draw attention, but this navigation and application square dance added cognitive load that could better have been used for absorbing the content.

So how can you tweak something a little to make it a lot better? How can you show your learners how small bits of progress are leading them to a larger goal? Can you leverage the success of making some small changes to your course like substituting some written content for a relevant video or adding a new activity? Can you break up a larger goal for your students into smaller pieces that they can tackle individually and gain confidence and competence toward their bigger achievement? 

Let me know how you are turning a small win into a big gain. 

(Image based on photo by Arieth)