Creating inspiration, part 7: Define the needed steps

Dr. Wernher von Braun explains the Saturn Launch System to President John F. Kennedy. NASA Deputy Administrator Robert Seamans is to the left of von Braun

The last of the seven building blocks you can use to inspire yourself and other people during times of change is to define the initial actions which are needed and show that they are achievable.

That might sound straightforward — but as two examples will show, it can vary enormously.

The first example comes from President John F Kennedy in 1962. Announcing his plan to put an astronaut on the moon, Kennedy didn’t lay out every single action that would be taken. Instead, he defined the high-level resources that would be assigned as first steps:

“During the next five years the National Aeronautics and Space Administration expects to double the number of scientists and engineers in this area; to increase its outlays for salaries and expenses to $60 million a year; to invest some $200 million in plant and laboratory facilities; and to direct or contract for new space efforts over $1 billion from this Center in this City.”

At that stage, this was the most that anybody could know. And it was enough.

The second example comes from General George Patton. In 1944, the outcome of World War II depended on his ability to motivate the inexperienced Third Army to follow up on the largest seaborne invasion in history. To succeed, Patton needed to inspire the soldiers of an entire army to do something huge and terrifying they had never done before. This is a larger task than you or I will probably ever be called upon to deliver but he succeeded. And the way he did so was almost entirely by using this building block.

He achieved this on three levels:

  • First, he described specific examples of the kinds of actions they would be called upon to perform and he reminded them that other people like them had done these things before:
    “You should have seen the trucks on the road to Gabès. Those drivers were magnificent. All day and all night they crawled along those son-of-a-bitch roads, never stopping, never deviating from their course with shells bursting all around them.”
  • Second, he reminded his team of the general behaviours he expected from them, such as “constant alertness” and “instant obedience.”
  • And third, he told his people how he wanted them to behave emotionally“An army is a team. It lives, eats, sleeps, and fights as a team. This individual hero stuff is bullshit.”

The language Patton used might not be appropriate for your audience but it was entirely appropriate for his. Historians have called this one of the greatest motivational speeches of all time. We can learn from his example.

This seventh building block of inspiration is about describing the next steps you want to take — not the whole journey — and showing that they are achievable. Doing this well gives people the confidence to take the first step. And in a time of change, building that confidence is more important than ever — another key ingredient to becoming antifragile.

Are you trying to convince someone to take action? Could defining the next steps and showing they are achievable help inspire them to support you?

Adapted from Inner Leadership: a framework and tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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Photo By NASA on The Commons via

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