Tackle the Big Things First

Andrea Belk Olson
3 min readNov 20, 2023

Let’s say you’re trying to teach an elephant how to recite poetry while balancing on a soccer ball. How should you allocate your time and money between training the elephant and designing the soccer ball?

The right answer, of course, is to spend zero time thinking about the ball. But most people will rush off and start designing a really great soccer ball first. Why? Because at some point the boss is going to pop by and ask for a status update — and you want to be able to show off something other than a long list of reasons why teaching an elephant to talk is really, really hard.

It’s human nature to want the boss to say, “Hey, nice soccer ball, great job!”, and think of your excellent design skills and productivity when you’re up for promotion instead of the long list of elephant training techniques that have failed so far.

It would take a lot of faith to believe your boss and their boss will thank you for helping to figure out whether (and for how long) your organization should invest resources in advanced elephant education. However, this happens all the time in companies. A new initiative or challenge is brought down the mountain, and the focus is execution — and employees are measured on their progress in that execution.

As leaders, we often assume all the time spent on the idea (i.e., the elephant reciting poetry while balancing on a soccer ball) is enough, and that our teams are just there to “execute”. And we want to see progress quickly since we spent so much time creating the idea in the first place! No time to waste! Yet, we need to consider execution. We need to consider the big things. We need to consider the heavy lift items. We need to encourage employees and measure their performance on how well they tackle the big stuff.

Although the big stuff is often unexciting, complicated, and moves at a slow pace, it’s critical to success. It’s the single point of failure. No matter how amazing your soccer ball is, without your poetry-reciting elephant, it’s useless. As leaders, when we talk about major initiatives, focus on the elephant. Recognize the elephant. Work with your teams to tackle it. No amount of poetry selection of unique soccer ball design will get you to your goal — help your organization get more comfortable with tackling the big things first.

About the Author

Andrea’s 25-year, field-tested background provides practical, behavioral science approaches to creating differentiated, human-focused organizations. A 4x ADDY award-winner, TEDx presenter, and 3x book author, she began her career at a tech start-up and led the strategic sales, marketing, and customer engagement efforts at two global industrial manufacturers. She now leads a change agency dedicated to helping companies address both the operational and the psychological components of strategic change.

In addition to writing and consulting, Andrea speaks to leaders and industry organizations around the world. Connect with Andrea to access information on her book, keynoting, research, or consulting. More information is also available at www.pragmadik.com or www.andreabelkolson.com.

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.



Andrea Belk Olson

Behavioral Scientist. Customer-Centricity Expert. Prolific Author. Compelling Speaker. More at www.andreabelkolson.com