I confess that I had to double-check on the euphemism to use for this post.
Baby Steps turned out to be the most accurate term for the concept in my head – the idea of taking “a tentative act or measure which is the first stage in a long and challenging process” (Oxford Dictionary, 2017).
It seems that I reaffirm the importance of Baby Steps daily in almost every element of my life. Here’s why:
#1. Small experiments can be iterative and informative, helping to build powerful relationships.
I follow with interest Greater Than The Sum, a blog by Christine Capra. In the sumApp platform that she has been developing in conversation with others, the explicit intent of the platform is to help people feel their way into a network, break it down into Baby Steps, meet people where they’re at, and learn along the way (sumApp, 2017).
The small act of having people identify their interconnections with others in a network mapping exercise can be a very powerful small experiment. Relationships can be approached iteratively, because the sequence of engagement can be repeated many times to get successively closer to the desired result of trust. Stepping back to reflect collectively on relationships can also be informative, equipping everyone with a more powerful understanding of the ‘how’ and ‘why’ in their relationship.
I am acting out this concept every day with my interest in the confluence of arts and technology in Waterloo Region (see for example de Groot, Jan. 2017; Thompson, Feb. 2017). I’ve been brainstorming with my friend and colleague Nick Dinka, Director: Communication and Cultural Planning at Wilfrid Laurier, about small actions and experiments that we can initiate to help grow and expand this exciting movement in the Region.
#2. Small, tentative actions can build a greater understanding of self.
There is an analogy that I’ve been reflecting on this past week – in which baby elephants, brutally restricted by their trainers with heavy steel stakes to prevent movement and freedom, become conditioned to believe that escape is impossible and (with time) require no physical restraints.
Curtis Ogden, who has some brilliant blog articles on the Interaction Institute for Social Change website here, writes about how this analogy of the elephant on strings impacts our minds in this article.
If we want to escape our own conditioning and the false belief that we cannot change our world or ourselves (just Google self-directed neuroplasticity to find out more), we do not begin with pushing a giant ‘Pause’ button on our current selves and starting anew with something fresh.
Instead, we try out small and tentative actions – experimenting with new approaches, mindsets, and behaviors – to create various permutations of self. I see this in my own daily actions, most particularly with relation to diet and exercise. I have heard people say, ‘I could never skip breakfast’. The very idea is a physical, mental, and emotional impossibility for them.
I’d read some compelling articles on the Nerd Fitness blog about fasting, however, and wanted to try it out. So I took small steps towards daily periods of fasting, and now, I feel myself to be quite a different person as a result. Constant reflections on the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of this experience have helped me better understand myself, as well.
#3. Small leadership experiences can help with decision-making both individually and collectively.
Leadership requires both good relationships and a strong understanding of self, so the two reasons for taking small, Baby Steps above are also relevant here.
However, small leadership experiences can also facilitate your ability to make decisions both for yourself and within a group. The Loomio Blog, which I have enjoyed reading while practicing the Loomio tool with a globally-located group of network builders, highlights the ways in which decision-making can be structured (e.g. 10 tips for making great decisions with Loomio). I believe that modelling listening and reflection when taking small leadership actions is essential to making well-thought-out decisions which can be made quickly but with consideration for the larger context.
These three elements are the defining reasons I see Baby Steps as an important concept to honour in my daily life; helping me to build relationships, understand myself, and make informed decisions.