Think Big, DO Small©

I LOVE big thinking, being visionary and dreaming. In the past, I have often been frustrated with people who are stuck in small or incremental thinking. I used to think that bigger thinking was the answer to all of our problems and the accelerator for all of our opportunities. Recently, however, I experienced a fundamental shift in my thinking. It’s not a shift away from big thinking, but it’s an awareness that big thinking alone is not the answer and can actually get in the way of change. Stick with me (even you lovers of big thinking) and perhaps together we can create some new magic and improved outcomes by making sure that our big thinking is always packaged with the missing ingredient – action.

I often speak about the allure of and our addiction to being busy, including how being busy gets in the way of getting the right things done. I’ve realized that thinking big can be equally addicting and perhaps even more distracting. I am blessed in my life to be surrounded by many people who love big thinking, but I started to realize that many of these people struggle with turning big thinking into tangible action. I’m one of these people. While I sometimes need to be pushed out of my comfort zone into bigger thinking, I can easily become trapped in the pursuit of bigger thinking and more ideas without making sure that I take action to move these many big ideas forward.

What about you? Do you struggle with always having more and more ideas? You come up with one idea, and before you’ve done anything with it, up pops another idea. I’ve recently found this to be true as I’ve finished my book. As I neared the end of writing the final manuscript, I started thinking about the next book I want to write and, as a result, my work on the current book slowed down. I was distracted by the next book idea, which kept me for a time from completing the current book. Okay, I admit that I am easily distracted. Although never diagnosed, I’m pretty sure that I have some ADD tendencies. However, I don’t believe that our trouble with big thinking is limited to those of us who are ADD or otherwise easily distracted.

Let’s face it – if you like big ideas, they are like a drug. I could sit around for hours or even days with big thinkers and people who like to ask deep questions and just talk, listen, talk and listen. We exchange ideas and perspectives. We challenge each other and invite each other to lift our ideas even higher; we co-create ideas and learn new things, and these are all great gifts and opportunities. But what do we do with all of this thinking, creating and ideation? Unfortunately, in my experience, not much or not enough.

This is a challenge and an invitation to a new way of thinking: think big and DO small. The concept is simple and is based upon the reality that all actions are by their very nature small. We have grand dreams, big thoughts and complex plans and projects, but all of the actions needed to turn dreams and big thinking into reality are small in nature. Whether it’s research, a phone call, an email, a letter, an article, a graphic, an outline, etc., these are all relatively small steps. Writing a book is NOT an action. It’s the outcome of many small actions. The same is true for everything we desire to create or accomplish.

One of my favorite movie lines comes from The Untouchables (1987), in which Sean Connery’s character says several times to Kevin Costner’s character, “What are you prepared to do?” In the movie, the focus of this line is on the “prepared” part. Connery is challenging Costner by asking him if he is prepared to do what has to be done. In contrast, I’m focused on the last word – DO. While I fully embrace everything before the DO – dreaming, thinking, planning, praying, trusting, collaborating – everything that we want to achieve or create follows the DO.

Gandhi said it so well when he invited each of us to “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I have always loved this perspective. He didn’t say try, think, plan or research. He said BE, which to me is all about action. If you want to change who you are, you must take action. If you want to create different results in your career or business, you must take action. If you want to improve your relationships, you must take action. If you want to improve the community, you must take action. If you want to change the world (and I believe that every one of you has this desire deep inside you in some form), you must take action!

You may not know the outcome of your actions or whether they are the best actions, but it’s time for action. Small actions create ripples of positive change that create our desired outcomes and futures. Mother Teresa said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” Nearly everyone I know believes in the concept of creating ripples of change, but here’s the challenge: no ripples are created while I’m sitting on the shore thinking about which ripples to create, how big I can make them or which rock to throw into water. Ripples ONLY happen when I cast a stone into the water, and in our lives action is the casting of a stone.

Yes, we need to be thoughtful. Yes, we need to keep dreaming and thinking big. Yes, we need to plan. AND it’s time for us to take action – even small steps – to turn all of our dreams and thinking into reality. I invite you all to continue thinking big, but also to embrace doing small!


  1. Nice article, Jeff. Looking forward to reading your new book – congrats! For me, you nailed it….my self-diagnosed ADD is more often an excuse for “big thinking” and chasing the NEXT big thing. IF I were to focus, and get one thing done (DO) before moving forward, I would be running forward and not just seeming to always be treading water. Kudos, my friend. Keep “DOING!” John

Speak Your Mind