Creating inspiration, part 7: Define the first steps

The seventh of the key building blocks that you can use to inspire yourself and other people to move forward in this time of change is to define the first steps that are needed and show that they are achievable.

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

The first example comes from President John F Kennedy when he announced his intention to put an astronaut on the Moon. To win support for his proposal, 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 the time this was the most that anybody could know. And it was enough to get people to support him so that the project could begin.

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 Third Army to follow up on the largest seaborne invasion of all time. To do this he needed to inspire large numbers of young and inexperienced people to do something highly dangerous and unpredictable that they had never done before. The way he did this is now taught as one of the greatest leadership speeches in history.

His approach consisted almost entirely of defining the first steps and showing that they were possible. And he did this on three levels:

  • First, he reminded his team of the general behaviours he expected, such as “constant alertness” and “instant obedience.”
  • Then he described specific examples of the kinds of actions his people would be called upon to perform and he reminded them that other people had done these things before them:
    “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.”
  • 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 in this speech might not be appropriate for your audience but it was entirely appropriate for his. Historians have called it one of the greatest motivational speeches of all time.

And although you and I will probably never be called upon to achieve a task as great as his, we can still learn from his example.

This seventh building block of creating inspiration is what gives people the confidence to take the first step

And without it, nothing changes.

But with this first step, you take another step towards becoming antifragile.

Are you trying to convince someone to take an action? Would defining the first steps and showing how 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 can’t learn to swim just by reading about swimming, you also need to do the practice.)

Photo By NASA on The Commons via

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