The paradox of leverage

February 16, 2014

Does one man matter?

And I mean one man like one person - man or woman.

Do you matter in the large world context? Sometimes I feel I do, and at other times I don't. Well, this is a paradox I've experienced and struggled to answer while growing up. For example, as a young man with the new right to vote, I have succumbed to the youthful cynicsm,

“Your vote doesn't really count - it's just one among millions.”

There is certain rational plausibility. We intuitively understand that there is truth to this. And yet part of me sincerely wanted this to not be true. “Surely, I matter!” Otherwise, what’s the point of anything?

And then reading about other great people, you realize that individuals matter supremely. There was dogged George Washington rallying ragtags to somehow organize into a persistent machine to defeat the British. There was unassuming Lincoln who knew how to bring out the best among even his well-accomplished and talented cabinet. There are football coaches who turn a team from losers to winners - take stories of coach Lombardi or coach Wooden - and I am just awestruck what difference an individual makes in effectiveness of the whole.

So, what's the secret?

The mystery of leverage

What is leverage?

The ancient Greek philosopher Archimedes is thought to have said:

“Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the Earth.”

I realized that the difference between an individual vote in a US Election and individual leadership in winning games or wars is that there is a difference in leverage. In an election, 1 is 1. In Civil War, Lincoln was not 1. He was able to extend himself into many millions through the combination of political machine and leadership. You had to have both - both the machine and the man.

As I think about this, I am also reminded of an interview with Steve Jobs in which he defines technology and its power by use of analogy. He talks about how a bicycle makes a man the most efficient of all animals. See Steve Jobs interview: “we are toolbuilders.”


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What about your product?

What about your service or product? When your customer lands on your page, is your customer just another voter showing up to cast one vote among hundred million, or is she about to command a finely tuned audience to do something amazing?

And what about you? How are you applying leverage in your work or life habits?

Today, think about something you are doing repeatedly, and reflect whether you are applying the right leverage.

What tool could you build or use to get more out of your time or actions?

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy reading Sweat the Small Stuff.

Keep looking up!


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About David

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David at Crater Lake National Park

A former cube dweller, writing about web products, entrepreneurship, and growth.

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