A few weeks ago, a colleague of mine commented online that he's noticed a lot of small-business professionals giving ridiculous projections to investors. Some of this is just because forecasting what a business will bring in is notoriously difficult to begin with--key assumptions aren't always perfect, for example, and market forecasts don't always give a great picture of particular niches.
But some of it simply comes down to that old desire to impress. We're fed the concept you have to go big or go home, and at the same time, the competition is so vicious that it's easy to feel like you're not going to get investors to bite if you don't paint yourself as coated in gold.
Seasoned investors know better. Sure, they always hope to see an outlandish projection that has a real foundation behind it. But they understand that most new businesses don't deliver that. So when you give a crazy figure to them, they're generally not going to be impressed. They rightfully will become only more critical, and they'll press you even harder to support what you've asserted.
This problem, however, isn't just in the pitches the market sees. It's in our general goals too. Almost right out of the box, we look at the top rung of the ladder, and because we've been conditioned to believe we can do anything without really being taught the process and discipline of how to get there, we fall on our faces when we jump for it. Then we get discouraged or upset, and we either lose confidence and quit or misplace blame, neither of which are hallmarks of great leadership.
Now, am I saying you can't get to the top rung of the ladder? Absolutely not. What I am saying is that to get there you don't jump--you climb. And like a rock climber scaling a cliff, you must be realistic and see the incremental changes necessary to get where you want to go. Plan out the route in your head before you even feel the stone. And once you start, instead of thinking of the 3,294 moves left to go, you focus one handhold, one step up at a time. You do it over and over again. You pace yourself. And at the end of the day, you look down, and no one can deny what you accomplished.
Why does concentrating on the small, tiny goals inside the overall vision work so much better? Much of it is because we tend to be creatures of habit. What we know feels wonderfully comfortable. It's a lot like the old live frog in boiling water story. Put the frog in when the water is already hot, and it will jump out (or in the case of people, fall off the wagon). Put the frog in normal water and slowly heat it, though, and it will stay until it's cooked. We don't want to cook, of course, but like the frog, we aren't shocked if the adjustment is small enough, and so we can persist.
The world will tell you to go faster, to go bigger. But the biggest winners are able to trick their brains into accepting the long haul through bite-size pieces. They aren't oblivious to what they want or what's coming, but they don't worry about what's 30 miles or years down the road. They just laser focus on chopping down the troublesome tree right in front of them, and when that's done, they sharpen their axe and go get the next one. You can do the same. The path you cut, though, well, that's entirely up to you.