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The Little-by-Little Principle

Change is a constant in today's world, impacting our personal and professional lives. Change comes in all shapes and sizes: there are small adjustments that we need to make in what we are doing, then there are the more significant changes where we plot our course, thinking through what we will do and how we will do it.

And then there is transformational change: doing something we have never done before. This is the most challenging type of change because we may not even be able to reach out to others for experienced advice. Here is where I think God's principle of "little by little" applies. It can be both a comfort and helpful instruction to see us through the difficult process of change.

It was a season of transformational change where God revealed his little-by-little principle to the children of Israel. They had been delivered from slavery in Egypt and were now in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land.

Deuteronomy 7:22 says, "And the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you little by little; you will be unable to destroy them at once, lest the beasts of the field become too numerous for you" (NKJV).

The nations mentioned in this passage were the "ites" of the Promised Land: the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These seven nations - described as greater and mightier than the children of Israel - were then occupying the land which God had promised to give to his people.

Notice that God said that they would be unable to destroy them at once. Why? Isn't God the same God who had delivered them miraculously from Egypt, even by parting the Red Sea to get them away? Couldn't he simply cause them to take the Promised Land in a similar miraculous event?

Sometimes God's work in our lives is instantaneous, but more often, it follows a process - and that process is for our own good. The process can be best seen by looking back on progress over time. Today may not feel like a success, but plotting results over time would reveal a definite line or curve slanting upward, with ups and downs along the way.

Exodus records this same little-by-little principle in more detail.

Exodus 23:29-30 says, "I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the beasts of the field become too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased, and you inherit the land" (NKJV).

Here we see that God indicates the process will take some time because other problems could arise otherwise. We also see that increase - or their readiness - was a key element in the process.

As a consultant in the field of organizational change, I understand the importance of readiness. Projects often fail due to lack of readiness within the organization.

Without readiness, people are simply not prepared to "occupy" the future state. It will be too easy to go back to "business as usual" - to lose what has been gained - because the important foundation is missing (and the foundation for the "old way" is still well established). Little by little is the approach for building that foundation - a foundation that helps sustain the needed changes over time.

Applying little by little in business means that we need to understand that people may not be fully ready even though the vision and the accompanying structures, systems and processes are ready. Little by little, people need to change their thinking and their actions. In fact, the Bible supports the notion of mindset shift when it comes to transformation. Romans 12:2 says, "?be transformed by the renewing of your mind?" (NKJV).

Anything that requires new mindsets, by its very nature, will naturally follow the little-by-little principle because a change in thinking is progressive. If we understand that, we will cooperate with the process. But if we do not understand it, we may be inappropriately impatient with the process and with the people who are going through it.

Business leaders who understand the little-by-little principle during transformational change are more likely to constructively handle the natural ups and downs that accompany it. In fact, in my experience, it is often best to have some issues in the beginning. Simply the process of analyzing the problems and making the needed adjustments can lead to an understanding of what the organization is facing, and clarify some of the needed mindset shifts themselves. Easy victories are not as cherished as those that were difficult and won through hard work. People who tell the stories of these hard-won victories (easy ones don't make for good stories!) are supporting the needed changes in thinking. They are, in essence, supporting the little-by-little principle in action.

July01, 2008 at 2:04 PM

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