A Small Thing, A Large Effect

“Because it was normal.”

I was talking with someone about a local institution that has weathered the past two years unusually well for institutions of that sort. Apparently, the fact that one small but visible part of that organization functioned as close to normally as was possible had a huge effect. Other people saw that little part doing its thing, and felt better. And supported the organization, and stuck with it through some disruptions. The organization is hanging on with fingernails, as so many are right now, but it is hanging on while many others have not reopened their doors.

What is it that keeps people going? What is that little thing—or big thing—that makes the difference? The answers are as varied as people, but that something looked and acted “normal” helped form a stable core that people could hold on to. Is it that one person who’s always at the front desk, greeting customers, answering questions, and generally upbeat (or grumpy but with a sense of humor under the growls) who sticks with her job? Is it the grocery sacker who always has a kind word and who works in good and bad weather? Is it the small group of folks who quietly take care of little problems so everyone else can get their job done, even though fixing the problem isn’t in the official job description?

I suspect, if we look through history, it is that small, unofficial core of people, or the steady individual, who have done more to keep the world running than 99% of princes, potentates, and prophets.


5 thoughts on “A Small Thing, A Large Effect

  1. One aspect of this is what I call the “token responsible adult” – in many organizations, you can quickly spot the person who’s called in to sort things out. That person may not have much in the way of job title or seniority, but can be counted on to show up on time and has managed to learn a lot about how the work gets done, where things are kept, how some recurring computer weirdness was solved the last time, etc.
    (When Sir Pterry referred to Fred Colon as “one of nature’s sergeants”, I don’t think he meant “just falls into the role of keeping the organization running smoothly and providing a liaison between Management and Workers”, but there are people who do have that nature, and every organization of nontrivial size needs one.)

  2. Arthur Koestler said something similar…citing the rabbinical story of the 36 Righteous Men…who, in every generation, keep the world going…he said that in organizations of all kinds, including those enterprises in the Soviet Union that actually managed to function, he had encountered a small core of people who actually cared and made the whole thing work.

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