Early in my career, I was introduced to inspireyourpeople.com, and their concept called 212° The Extra Degree. The concept they teach is simple: at 211°, water is hot. But at 212°, it’s boiling. Just increasing the temperature of water one degree makes the water so much more powerful. Boiling water creates steam, and with steam, you can power a train.
It’s an interesting thought. After all, how much more effort is needed to get water from 211° to 212°? Just one degree hotter. Almost nothing.
It’s a simple metaphor to remind us that small things can make an enormous difference in the end. You man be sitting at the metaphorical 211°, and you could make a huge difference in your life if you increase the heat a tiny amount.
Success is the sum of a million small efforts. Sometimes these small things add up to something meaningful. Why not use this simple concept to motivate yourself to be the one who makes an effort in your job, in your relationships, or in your community?
Why is effort so important?
To answer that question, we can turn to the #1 New York Times best selling book by Angela Duckworth, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Angela argues that talent and intelligence matter less than grit, which she defines as the combination of passion and perseverance (aka hard work and resilience).
Through many examples as well as years of research, Angela proves that despite our bias toward natural talent, it’s our capacity for hard work, deliberate practice, perseverance, and deep passion that predicts our success in a given area.
“As much as talent counts, effort counts twice.”
Angela Duckworth, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
The good news is that you don’t need special talents or gifts to reach a high level of performance in your area of passion. The person who tries a little bit harder or gives a little bit more can be the highest performer in the room.
Let’s talk about small efforts
If you buy into these two main ideas – 1. hard work, practice, and passion matter more than talent, and 2. even incredibly small consistent efforts make all the difference – you may be wondering how to go about implementing it.
One trick I’ve used to improve my performance for years now is this. Whenever I am turning in work, delivering a presentation, or crafting an email that matters, I ask myself, ”how can I make this 1° better?”
I want to be the one who consistently puts in that small additional effort and reaps the big rewards. And you know what? It works. I have less re-work because I think of the little things before anyone else sees my work. My reputation for high quality has helped me as well.
Need a few examples of doing 1° better?
- Every time you have to complete a document – think excel spreadsheet, slide deck, or a report – spend 5 minutes thinking about the person receiving it and how you can make things just a little bit easier for them. Can you ensure print settings are correct, use proper headers, eliminate jargon, or use Grammarly to double-check your grammar?
- When writing a complex email, instead of hitting send when finished, challenge yourself to eliminate 10% of the words without reducing the value of the content. Maybe you can eliminate some of the words by adding a simple chart or picture. With the volume of email everyone receives, learning to get your message across with as few words as possible provides value to everyone.
- Take a minute to write a thank you email or card to someone that did something nice for you or helped you out in some way. People love to be acknowledged, and so many overlook simple ways (and small effort) to say thank you.
- Find ways to up your meeting efficiency slightly. Prepare a clear agenda for every meeting. Determine if there is anything you can resolve in advance of the meeting with a quick phone call or email, shortening or eliminating the meeting. Ensure you document clear action steps and accountable people at the end of the meeting.
- Have a difficult conversation you’ve been putting off. You can lighten your mental load by having a discussion you need to have and possibly even build relationships if done well.
There are a million ways to slightly increase your effort if you keep asking yourself the question, “how can I make this 1° better?” Maybe no one will notice that little bit of extra effort you put in; I suspect they will. In the end that extra effort can help you build a career and reputation you’re proud of.
So, you want to take it up a notch?
While small efforts can make a big difference, maybe you’re ready to put in the big efforts as well. If that describes you, here are a couple of thoughts to get you started.
- Expand knowledge in your core area of expertise. Study competitor companies. Learn more about the history of your industry and who has made an impact on it. Talk to veterans in your company to learn more about how the company operates and past struggles and successes. Avoid the comfort of limiting your knowledge to what’s required for your job. Expand into related areas as much as possible.
- Think about your skillset and job and then consider all the surrounding skills that could take your performance up a notch. For example, if you’re an accountant, you may be great with numbers and financial statements. But to get to the next level, you need to be able to explain financial results in a compelling way. The surrounding skills of storytelling or graphic design could take your performance to the next level. Work on those surrounding skills by taking online training, reading books, or finding a mentor to up your game.
- Read biographies on people who’ve accomplished things you’d like to accomplish. Note how they got there and keep a list of things they did that you could try to do as well.
Without effort, your talent is nothing more than unmet potential. Without effort, your skill is nothing more than what you could have done but didn’t.
Angela Duckworth, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
Where can you make a slight improvement?
The idea that effort is more important than talent is so great because it gives you all the power. You can make the effort and you can choose to take complete responsibility for your performance.
Think about it: what can you do today to turn up the heat one degree?
Before you go all in on effort, take a few minutes to visualize your future self to ensure your efforts are going toward something that gets you where you want to be!