How to eat an elephant?

Most of the projects that can make a difference in today’s world are big, complex, risky and generally prone to failure.

How does one counter this uncertainty and maintain a steady course?

Firstly, ask the right questions!

“Asking the right question is half the answer” Aristotle

Then, set your goal – your True North – and persevere in staying the course!

As Thomas Edison, a great prolific inventor, once said:

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Thomas Edison

What Edison suggests is that perseverance and hard work eventually pays off. He has 1,093 US patents to prove it.

Along the same lines, I have found the below story from the Jim Collins inspiring and tremendously helpful in keeping me focused when dealing with complex, big projects:

The 20-Mile March from Book Great by Choice by Jim Collins

Amundsen vs. Scott – Conquering the South Pole:

The round trip trek was roughly fourteen hundred miles, the equivalent of the distance from New York to Chicago and back.The environment was uncertain and unforgiving, where temperatures could easily reach 20 degrees below zero F even during the Summer.They had no means of modern communications – no cell phones, no satellite links, no radio – a rescue would have been improbable were they to err.One leader led his team to victory and safety.The other led his team to defeat and death.

Throughout the journey, Amundsen adhered to a regimen of consistent progress, never going too far in good weather, careful to stay away from the red line of exhaustion that could leave his team exposed, yet pressing ahead in nasty weather to stay on pace.Amundsen throttled back his well-tuned team to travel between 15 and 20 miles per day, in a relentless march to 90 degrees south.When a member of Amundsen’s team suggested they could go faster, up to 25 miles a day, Amundsen said no.They needed to rest and sleep so as to continually replenish their energy.In contrast, Scott would sometimes drive his team to exhaustion on good days and then sit in his tent and complain about the weather on bad days.At one point Scott faced 6 days of gale force winds and traveled on none, whereas Amundsen faced 15 and traveled on 8.Amundsen clocked in at the South Pole right on his pre-decided pace, having averaged 15.5 miles per day.Scott in contrast fell behind early, with no plan of a daily pace, and as the conditions worsened, enhanced by his lack of preparation for unforeseen events, he and his team never recovered.


There are countless times I have used this technique to tackle the most daunting of tasks.

The key is to set a constant and keep on it without thinking about the total. Before you know it you are there and most importantly you have enjoyed the journey!!!

e.g. I remember I needed to go over a textbook of 1000 pages. Reading 1000 pages is daunting but breaking down the task and focusing on disciplined reading of 30 pages a day made the task achievable and easy to tackle. A friend has used the same technique to run a marathon. There are a variety of examples if you think about it.

Remember,

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. Lao Tzu


So, as the saying goes: How to eat an elephant?

– A bite at a time!


Do you have a 20-mile March task you have been putting off for a while? Now, may be a good time to start.

Happy Marching!


[Image credit: 123rf.com]

About George Vrakas
George Vrakas (MBA, CCMP, CMILT) is highly reputed in the fields of Contract and Relationship Management as well as, Services Procurement and Logistics with extensive experience in Contract Management, Procurement and Supply Chain. George is passionate about Contract Management, Procurement, Innovation, Continuous Improvement, Exploring trends that will shape the Future, Team Development and the Modernisation and Automation of processes. George is a member of IACCM. George is the author of www.georgevrakas.com blog and has presented on Globalisation, Procurement and Continuous Improvement at various venues and Universities in Victoria, Australia.

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