July 15, 2008

Success like the growth of an apple

Sometime ago, I wrote about how it is sometimes hard to determine quickly whether something is working or not (here). This is often also the case in the way people and organizations achieve success. Jim Collins, in Good to Great, studied some exceedingly successful companies with his team and concluded that did not achieve their spectacular success through special change programs, nor through breakthrough decisions or products. On the contrary, he found, the process evolved very fluently. To explain, Collins uses the metaphor of the flying wheel. When you start to turn this wheel it goes heavily and moves slowly. But by continuously keeping on turning the wheel, it starts to build momentum and then, just suddenly, a point is reached at which the wheel turns at great speed without you having to turn it any harder than at first. I find this an inspiring view on how success can be achieved, not only for organizations, but just as well for individuals. Last week, I came across another fruitful metaphor for growing success.

A ten year old boy made a visit to a violin teacher for a first lesson. The teacher asked him: "Have you ever seen an apple grow?" The boy smiled and hesitatingly said: ".... Uh... yes?" The teacher asked: "Really? Did you actually see it grow?" "Not really", the boy replied. "Aha", said the teacher, "that's the thing with apples; they grow so slowly, you never see them grow. But still they do. It is just like playing the violin. If you practice daily, you may never see your growth from day to day as a player but still you grow. You grow slowly."

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