Top navbar


Achieving Greatness – doing small tasks and duties

Piyush 2015-12-28

One fine day, an employee, Mr X walked up to his Manager and asked him about his job for the day. The Manager took him to a nearby river and said, “You have to cross the river without using the bridge and bring a box kept on the other side back in an hour.” Mr X goes ahead, shares a boat ride for Rs 100 and comes back with the box in 55 mins. Manager applauds him, “good job”.

Next day, Mr Y walks up to his Manager and enquires him about his job for the day. The Manager gives him the same job for which he assigned Mr X. Mr Y goes to the river bank only to find that Mr Z is struggling to find a convenient option to complete the task. Mr Z hires a motor boat for Rs 300 and takes Mr Z along with him. They finish the task in 30 mins and return to the Manager to handover the box. The manager appreciates, “excellent job”.

The day after, the Manager assigns the same task to Mr O. Mr O is an eager guy. He decides, first to study the tasks as performed by X, Y and Z. He finds that there’s a huge variation in the process followed by his predecessors. The time consumed and the cost involved in completing the task by each person is quite contrasting.


Mr Z writes down the steps each person took to map the process end to end. Once the important features of the process were captured, he creates a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). By creating this SOP he was able to identify and eliminate the mistakes once could possibly commit. He goes to the river bank to contemplate upon the ground realities. In this process, he finds that, actually, the task is quite easy and he can save both time and money. He pays thirty rupees to the boatman to bring the box. The boatman brings it in 30 mins and gives it to Mr O who brings it to the Manager.

The Manager is overjoyed to understand Mr O’s superb analysis and performance of the task. He replies, “Outstanding job! I am very proud of you”.

Every now and then we get tasks to be completed at work, at home and all possible places. What I have learnt from experience is that working on a task involves two things, resources and initiatives. Most of us have the “resources” to do them but the only thing we lack, I believe, is the “initiative”. The great scientist Albert Einstein said, “You never fail until you stop trying”. So it is trying that matters the most. However, most of us end up doing what is likely to be done. Are we happy? Most probably yes! Disappointment happens when the act is not in congruence with the expectation. Well, in the story that you just read, all three people were competent enough and could complete their task since the “resource” was known. Mr X completed the job in an hour’s time while Mr Y and Z did it in half the time. Y and Z saved time but had to spend more money because they focused on the task but not on its relevance.

It was Mr O who did an outstanding job. He took the initiative to think differently and did something unconventional. Many a times we are stuck into following procedures and timelines without even knowing its legitimacy. I am sure that Mr O would have asked himself, “Why should it be done “this” way!” He did not follow the standard method used by his colleagues. Instead, he used the Socratic way of inquiring and probing into the matter with questions. Mr O could save both time and money. He took the right “initiative”. Initiative pays off everywhere, whether at work or in personal life. Mr X, Y and Z, all took initiatives but not the way O did. Mr O is what are called “out-of-the-box” thinkers.

We must learn continuously and improve upon situations in order to improve. It is also necessary to have a measurement which can tell us know how far we have come along. Greatness is achievable if we think differently and take initiatives. The possibilities are infinite! There are numerous examples in history where individuals have shown that the human potential is unlimited. All successful entities whether individuals or businesses have outgrown themselves by making little improvements every day. We too should learn to grow little by little everyday by reflecting upon our thoughts daily.

Gandhiji said, “No matter how insignificant the thing you have to do, do it as well as you can, give it as much of your care and attention as you would give to the thing you regard as important. For it will be by those small things that you shall be judged”.

It is in doing the small duties and tasks that one can achieve greatness. Sachin Tendulkar practices every day even though he’s retired from international cricket. The master blaster did not wake up one day to become the God of cricket. He had to make improvements in his technique to play against the best bowlers in the world otherwise he would have faltered due to numerous injuries. These days he’s taken an initiative to reach out to people and countries where cricket is not so popular. Roger Federer is yet another great sportsman. He broke Pete Sampras’ world record of wining the most Grand Slams. How! He too practices everyday making small changes in his game. These changes are holistic – physical, mental, spiritual and social – they develop an individual to push him towards achieving greatness.

The coach of English cycling team at Tour de France, Sir Dave Brailsford, believes in the concept of “aggregation of marginal gains” which means performing “1% improvement in everything”. The team optimized every area associated to cycling by just 1% and improved everything – from nutrition, weekly training program, choosing the right pillow for best sleep, to correcting ergonomics of the bike seat and so on. The results were tremendous and in 2012, Bradley Wiggins became the first English cyclist to win the adventurous cycling tournament. This concept of aggregating marginal gains can prove to be very useful for all – be it individuals or organisations. When we improve continually, we actually allow the natural growth cycle to set in whereas when we don’t, we acquire bad habits.

Well, it is very easy to blame others and deny the reality that I am the problem. And the possible solution we think of is to change others – friends, team members and not ourselves. The threshold of 1 % must be crossed and achieved on a daily basis. And moreover you can check the compounding capabilities of the small percentage that we change in the value. What we can achieve is a different story, but what can be dramatically achieved by making Kaizen a routine activity is immense. However, if this habit is broken, we go into a degenerating cycle that ruins what you have built so far.

The philosophy of Kaizen teaches us to do each task at every step with great care. Every individual is endowed with power of achieving greatness. We must strive to continuously learn, unlearn and relearn to discover our true potential. I read somewhere. “Greatness is all about doing small task and duties with love to perform without expectation. It is more for fulfillment than name, fame, power or glory. One can plan to be successful but not to be great. Success is about results; greatness is about excellence.”


Share your views