Creating inspiration, part 7: Define the first steps

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

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

The first example comes from President John F Kennedy, announcing his intention to put an astronaut on the Moon. To do this, Kennedy didn’t lay out every single action that would be taken. Instead, he defined the high-level resources that would be assigned as the 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 this stage it was the most that anybody could know. And it was enough to get people to support him.

The second example comes from 1944. In May of that year, the outcome of World War II depended on the ability of General George Patton to motivate the inexperienced Third Army to follow up on the largest seaborne invasion of all time. To succeed, he needed to inspire large numbers of people to do something huge, dangerous, and unpredictable that they had never done before. His speech is now taught as one of the greatest leadership speeches in history and it consisted almost entirely of defining the first steps and showing they were possible.

He did this on three levels:

  • First, he described specific examples of the kinds of actions his people would be called upon to deliver and he reminded them that other people 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, 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. And historians have called his speech one of the greatest motivational speeches of all time.

We might not be trying to achieve a task as big as he was but we can learn from his example.

This seventh building block of creating inspiration gives people the confidence to take the first step. It gets the ball rolling.

Without that first step, nothing will ever happen. With it you take another step to becoming antifragile.

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

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

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(And remember: you don’t learn to swim by reading about swimming, you also need to practice.)

Photo By NASA on The Commons via

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