How Small Changes Can Lead to a Big Life

Hush Puppies had mostly disappeared. Sales of the comfortable shoes were down to 30,000 pairs a year, sold in small town outlet stores and mom and pop shops.

But then something strange happened. Between late 1994 and early 1995, sales shot up to 430,000 pairs. The next year four times that amount was sold. And the year after that sales went even higher.

What shot Hush Puppies sales to the stratosphere? Marketing campaign? New design? Famous spokesperson?

None of the above. Here’s what happened. A handful of kids in the East Village and Soho sections of Manhattan started wearing the shoes simply because no one else was. Others in the clubs and bars of the area saw them, wanted them, and more were bought.

Manhattan designers—seeing the local popularity of the shoes—began using the shoes in their shows. Before anyone could see it coming, sales skyrocketed and Hush Puppies were once again a staple of the young American male wardrobe.

Malcolm Gladwell recounts this story and explains what happened with the title of his book, “The Tipping Point.” Hush Puppies passed a certain point of popularity, a point he calls “the tipping point,” and sales took off.

Gladwell says there are three principles present when the tipping point occurs.

  • First, there is contagious behavior that begins with a few.
  • Next, there are little changes that have big effects.
  • And finally, the changes happen in a hurry.

We live in a “want it now” culture. And in our “want” we have missed the importance of small things that make a big difference. Jesus put it this way in a story he told.

The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.

Small beginnings did not frustrate Jesus. He expected them. He knew that if a few got the small things their lives would change. They would become big lives that could help others. Connected to other big lives, a kingdom would be expanded.

Focusing on the “big” end result can keep us from making the “small” changes now that will get us there.

Doubt creeps in. Negativity stifles creativity. We become overwhelmed and immobilized instead of organized and energized.

What are the small things you need to do that will make a difference? Find those. Stick to them. And watch for the tipping point in your life.

Question: What is one little change you can make today that could have a big effect in your life?

Challenge the Status Quo and Change the World

Steve Jobs was a revolutionary. He turned an industry around. He did it by doing things differently than how they were being done. His pitch was: “Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers.”

The early church was revolutionary. Their pitch could have been: “Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in Jesus and living differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by living lives that are beautifully designed and simple. We just happen to live generous lives.”

Those first followers of Jesus were said to have “turned the world upside down” in a very short time. How did they do that? Many factors were involved but the most dominant one is that they understood and practiced revolutionary generosity.

They challenged the status quo. They didn’t buy into their culture. People who merely conform to their culture never impact it. Something has to be radically different and unique.

They showed the people around them more of what life could be by not living in the way of the culture but instead living in the way of Jesus.

The story of Acts tells us that instead of acquiring things they got rid of things. They sold what they had and took the proceeds to the Apostles to take care of needs. Barnabas—called the “son of encouragement”—takes his extra property, sells it, and gives it to the Apostles and tells them to help others with it.

These people didn’t just give away the old shirts and dresses and shoes in their closets. Paul says in 2 Corinthians that one group—the Macedonian believers—gave even out of their poverty. These people had a vision for what God wanted his world to look like and, since they didn’t see it happening, they set out to do something about it. The early believers were generous out of their plenty and out of their poverty.

Want to be more generous? Here is how to get started:

  • It starts with a vision for God’s preferred future. We’ve got to see “what can be” so that when we see “what is” we are moved to act. There are two visions you can choose from. One is a vision of your preferred future. This vision has to do with your money being yours and a future you are creating for yourself. Another option is a vision of God’s preferred future. This vision has to do with seeing the money you have as God’s and a future he wants you to be involved in where no one lacks their basic needs, where people feel safe, and where communities are at peace.
  • A vision of God’s preferred future will lead you to a commitment to the discipline of simplicity. Jesus led a simple life and so can we. We have to recognize what our “needs” are and understand what our “wants” are. The “wants” are what get in our way of simplicity and generosity. Ask God where you have been excessive and where he wants you to redirect those resources to help create a better future that looks more like the one the Kingdom will fully bring.

Generosity can change your life. Better yet, it can turn the world upside down.

Question: How has your life changed by times you lived more simply so you could help others?

The Leader’s Journey (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003)

Most of us think that to lead well we need to manage those we lead first.  This book moves the focus to learning to manage self first before we will be able to lead others well.

Written by my friend Jim Herrington with Trisha Taylor and Robert Creech, this book and the personal coaching I’ve had along the way has transformed the way I view leadership.  It has also helped transform me.  (To any who say, “That’s the extent of the effect on you?” I say, “You should have seen me before!”)

One of the great concepts in the book comes from a quote from Ronald Richardson’s Creating a Healthier Church:

The leader’s main job, through his or her way of being in the congregation, is to create an emotional atmosphere in which greater calmness exists–to be a less anxious presence.

As the writers say,

The life of Jesus is examined to illustrate his ability to know and do the right thing despite incredible pressure to do otherwise. A model of Radical Obedience, Personal Reflection, and participating in a Community of Grace and Truth are three key ingredients in the personal transformation needed to lead calmly.

Whether you are a leader in your business, at church, at home or in your neighborhood, the principles in this book can give you a blueprint towards more effective leadership.  But be forewarned.  If you don’t want to work first toward personal transformation you will continue seeing the same results you’ve always been getting.

But, if you want see different and better results, this book needs to be a part of your library. Read it and practice it until it becomes you.


Bring Utopia to Your World

Many people dream of Utopia.   For two golfing friends, Utopia meant golfing for eternity.  Dave and Earl agreed that whoever died first would try to come back and tell the other if there was golf in heaven.

Dave died first one summer day. A few nights later, Earl awoke to the sound of Dave’s voice from beyond.

“Dave, is that you?” Earl asked.  “Of course it’s me,” Dave replied.

“This is unbelievable!” Earl exclaimed.  “So tell me, is there golf in heaven?”

“Well, I have some good news and some bad news for you.  Which do you want to hear first?”

“Tell me the good news first.”

“Well, the good news is there is golf in heaven.  Everyday we play on a course that looks just like Augusta National.  And no one ever bogeys a hole.”

“Oh, that is wonderful!” said Earl.  “So what could possibly be the bad news?”

“You have a tee time at 8:30 tomorrow morning.”

Many people dream of Utopia.  But I’ve actually been there.  Utopia, Texas that is.  I was staying at a retreat site between Vanderpool and Utopia.  I drove over to Utopia to check it out.

I found one main street.  One traffic light.  One store where I could buy a toothbrush since I forgot mine.  No movie theater. A population of about 241.  Just a little out of the way place in Texas that someone in the past named Utopia.

Not your picture of Utopia?  Then how about a place full of celebrations and happiness, public health for young and old, housing for all, no shortage of food, meaningful work, family support systems, and an  absence of violence?  That’s the dream found in Isaiah 65:17-25.  A place of well being.  A place of health.

And health is how Utopia got its name.  Originally named Montana, George Barker traveled to that area of Texas in 1876 as a young man.  He came with poor health, looking for a place that would bring healing to his body.

Every morning in winter and summer he would take a swim in the Sabinal River before breakfast.    Whether it was the air or the exercise something about the routine agreed with him.  His illness left and his health returned.

Exercise today to bring health to your community.

  • Serve.
  • Share.
  • Feed.
  • Clothe.

Who knows?  You may create a bit of Utopia for yourself and others.

Question: What are some other ways we can bring “Utopia” to our communities?  

You Are the Lever That Moves Your World

I didn’t much like the words I heard.

I had signed up for an eighteen-month leadership training course and thought we’d ease into the learning, kind of like the first day or two of a college class.  Instead, right off the bat we heard, “You are the highest leverage point in any system you are a part of.”

Everyone else was giving thoughtful “hmmms” and “ahhhs.”  I think one guy even struck a Rodin’s The Thinker pose.  My initial response was more of a “huh?”

Fortunately our facilitator began to unpack his terminology.  “Highest leverage point” means that you can make a difference.  You don’t have to wait around like you’re in line at a Wal-Mart for someone else to move before you could move.

And a “system” was defined as any group of people you are connected to.  It could be your family.  It might be your workplace.  It could be a sports team or a church group.

I didn’t much like those words.  It was much easier to think that when something needed changing or improved or fixed it was up to “someone else” to get the ball rolling.  Certainly I wouldn’t be the one responsible.

But now I had to consider the possibility that maybe I could do something.  I could have an impact.

For example, when a husband and wife find themselves in a lull in their relationship and they’re stuck in a rut, how will they get out?  He thinks she should make a first move so he waits.  She thinks he should make the first move so she waits.  The waiting room is an unexciting place to be.

Or you see something that isn’t working at work but you think, “That’s not my responsibility.”  And although you can see it when no one else can you remain silent.  And nothing changes.

What if instead you did something?  You took whatever level of influence you do have and used it to change the system?

  • You bring home flowers for a change.
  • You tell your husband how you are proud of him.
  • You find a way to help your boss meet a deadline.
  • You tell your son you are sorry for your harsh words.
  • You take the first step to repair a relationship.
  • You make the phone call, write the note, or extend the invitation.

Archimedes famously said “Give me a place to stand and with a lever I will move the world.” See yourself as the lever in your systems today.  Find something you can do to make it better.

Then watch your world begin to move.

What about your thoughts? Where are some other places you can be a high leverage point?

OpenClips / Pixabay