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Lessons from the First Space Strike

By Saleem Rana

On Apollo 13, the crew staged the first strike in the history of space travel. The date was December 27, 1973. Mission Control had sent more commands than the crew could cope with. Commander General Carr put a stop to this when he radioed in to Mission Control. "You have given us too much to do, he complained. "We're not going to do a thing until you get your act in better order."

He then shut off communications for 12 hours. The astronauts used the time to catch up and enjoy the unusual view.

The Success Principle

Success happens in small steps. Scale down big projects. Go for small victories. Over time, small victories add up to complete the overall goal.

The Principle At Work

In the story, the space crew scaled everything down to regain control of their mission. They reduced an overwhelming situation to a manageable one. Here you have an example of scaling down the element of time. While the projects remained the same size, they were extended over time. They became more manageable, easier to get done.

The key word here is manageable.

Scaling down can also be done in terms of size. A project can be broken down into smaller units, into sub-projects. When the parts of a whole are disconnected, each part can be worked on. A system with fewer interconnected parts is easier to comprehend, easier to control, manipulate, improve. Science, itself, is based on boiling down the vast complexity of nature into small, comprehensible units of information called scientific laws. Gradually, the completed parts are assembled into a whole again.

In your own life, when things get overwhelming, scale them down. Either do less of them, diminish the size; or do them all over a longer period of time. Scaling down means working at a level of competence. It means doing only a few things, and one thing at a time.

Ultimately, scaling down means shunning big wins for smaller wins. Going for big wins creates high stress, confusion, loss of momentum and balance.

When a large problem is broken down into smaller chunks, stress is reduced in three ways. First, a small win cuts the pressure. "This is no big deal." The price of failure is low. The pain of failure is minimal. Consequently, you are willing to try again and again, until you figure out the pattern which ensures success. Second, it cuts demand. There is less to do. And it is less strenuous. "This is all that needs to be done." Third, the level of skill needed is sufficient. Performance anxiety is reduced. A sense of competency exists. "I can do at least this much."

What is a small victory?

A small victory is a concrete, complete, clear-cut outcome of modest value. By itself, one small victory may seem trivial. But a series of victories at small but significant tasks, lowers resistance to opposition. Small victories are controllable opportunities. They produce visible results. Small solutions single out and define problems clearly. By looking at specific, limited conditions of a problem, it is easier to find a solution that fits. The problem is easier to see and the solution easier to try out.

Small victories emphasize the importance of defining limits. They avoid defining problems diffusely. "The establishment stinks." They avoid open-ended solutions. "Burn the system down." They define problems more precisely. "This is what is wrong." They narrow solutions. "This is the first thing we have to work on."

Once a small victory has been secured, energy is released and powerful forces are set in motion that favor another small victory. When a problem is solved, the next solvable problem appears. This happens because information is clear. When our perceptions are sharper, more resources, both inner and outer, can be tapped.

Small victories change a situation. They stir up change. Even when complexity does occur in the future, you will have the skills to meet them. In time, more complex tasks are handled with more mastery.

Small victories provide information. This information speeds up learning and adaptation. Small attempts are miniature experiments. They test theories. They offer insight into viable strategies. In little experiments, numerous theories can be postulated, numerous strategies tried out, until something clicks, a pattern is discerned, a meaningful solution appreciated.

Small victories are also more emotionally stable. A small defeat does not result in despondency, a small victory in exuberance. Everything is relatively even-tempered. A large, sudden victory can be overwhelming. Lottery millionaires, for example, have been known to lose all their money rapidly. This is different from the businessman who understands how to manage his money, even when it runs in millions, because he has built his business over a series of small victories.

Essentially, then, the best big victories are those that have arrived over a period of time as a series of small victories. These victories have stability, balance, and perpetuating power. They have matured over time because they have been built up over a process of events. Big corporations, for example, sometimes break themselves down into smaller departments to stimulate the creativity and dynamism of a small group.

Above all, when you initiate a small-scale project, or break a large project into small-scale projects, there is less that can go wrong. There is a closer link between cause and effect. Simple patterns can be created, observed, tested, discarded, tried out, and finally trusted. Immediate feedback is available as to what works and how long it takes. Clarity of vision, manageability of tasks, immediacy of results - all these arise from pursuing small victories.

About The Author
Saleem Rana got his masters in psychotherapy from California Lutheran University. His articles on the internet have inspired over ten thousand people from around the world. Discover how to create a remarkable life. Free information.

Copyright 2005 Saleem Rana.

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