A game of inches

When you treat life as a game of inches, you’re going to lose by miles.

Take my morning commute.  In the midst of morning rush hour traffic, one driver always tries to get that extra inch ahead — swerving between lanes, cutting off others — in the hopes of getting to work that much earlier.*

What are you going to do with that extra minute once you get to the office?  Or if you get home one minute sooner?

If that driver was really eager to get started with work, he could take the commuter train and work on the way.  Or he could work from home.

Or he could take a helicopter to the office.

When everyone is playing the game in the same way (driving to work), the only reliable way to beat everyone is to find a new way to play (flying to work).

Take the newspaper industry.  They treated the internet as a game of inches; they found incremental ways to incorporate digital into their plans.  They moved at the speed of paper.

Meanwhile, the Internet moved at the speed of light.  News business models came and went several times over while the newspapers were looking for the forest where the digital trees grow.

(because you need digital trees to print a newspaper online, right?)

In life, business, driving to work — you can’t treat these things as games of inches; something new and unexpected will come along to blow you away while you’re still stuck in traffic.

Whether you’re a company or individual, here are a few good questions to see if you’re playing the game by inches or miles:

  • What was the last change I made that sent out shockwaves to everyone?
  • If I didn’t exist, how would people get by without me?
  • What would I do differently if I was brought in to replace myself?
  • Am I incorporating the newest and best practices in my work?
  • Is everything around me thriving while I’m floundering?

If you’re playing by miles, these should be trivially easy to answer.  If you’re not, you probably struggled with this.

Admittedly, they’re pretty tough questions.  Thinking about what you would do if you were replacing yourself takes some gray matter power to think through.

Take a minute to look around you.  Are those things are moving by inches (the auto industry) or by miles (foreclosed homeowners)?

Which are moving the ocean and which are just moving with the tide?

Which one are you?


*Yeah, maybe one of those asshole drivers has a legitimate excuse like an emergency, but most are just assholes.

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