Incremental Improvement

Jeremy Hoover
3 min readMay 27, 2021

My buddy, John, has a bad habit. He wants to change the habit but he keeps stalling out. As a result, he never sees the change he wants to see. He finds himself in an endless cycle of wanting more, wanting to do and be better, but failing to realize that. His failures keep sending him back to square one, where he visions something better but doesn’t follow through.

Do you resonate with this?

The big reason for John’s lack of success is his inability to visualize the steps, or phases, of the journey he needs to go on in order to succeed. John sees the better future in front of him but doesn’t know how to get there so he starts, then stumbles, then stops. He tackles projects and changes that are too big and gives up.

John’s problem illustrates the need for a principle I call “incremental improvement.” The idea comes from the proverbial question, “How do you eat an elephant?” and its answer, “One bite at a time.” We often look at the problem (how do I eat the elephant?) instead of the actions needed to tackle the problem (the act of taking one bite a time).

In sales, you might be frozen by the quarterly quota you need to hit (the problem) and unable to see the steps and pipeline moves you need to take in order to hit those quotas (the actions).

In real estate, you might have a difficult-to-sell house listed for a difficult client (the problem) and you don’t see how to filter your client base to find the client best suited for the house (the actions).

In life, you might be experiencing relationship problems (the problem) and are unclear how to communicate better to help fix the problems (the actions).

“Incremental improvement” is a way of slowing down and asking yourself one simple question:

What is the next step I need to take?

Imagine yourself walking through a wooded area on a stone pathway in the moonlight towards a beautiful waterfall. You are excited about seeing the waterfall in the light of the moon but if you took off through the woods without following the path, in the dark, you might get lost. So you take one step at a time, one stone at a time, paying attention to where you are going and calibrating each step.

You tackle your problems incrementally, one step, one action, at a time.

Your quota can be broken down to monthly, or even weekly, or daily goals. What do you need to do today to move towards that quota?

Your difficult-to-sell house might be the perfect fit for an investor. Do you have a list of investors you reach out to regularly? What do you need to do today to create that list and cultivate those relationships?

Your relationship problems could be solved with better communication. Do you know what triggers you to lose your cool? What do you need to do today to understand that trigger and create a defense against it?

Study this “Growth-Inertia Matrix” and ask yourself which quadrant you are in. Are you moving towards “High Growth-High-purpose Activity”? In this quadrant, your efforts are focused on growth activities.

Incremental improvement is simply asking yourself what your next step is. When you finish that step, ask yourself again what your next step is. Keep moving forward, step by step, until you achieve your goal.

Let me know if I can be of any help to you.

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