Tiny Bite

Just a tad,” I respond to Alison, our longtime family dentist. After first placing and then removing the permanent crown on my tooth, she is making adjustments so that my upper and lower teeth come together in unison. After several bite tests, followed by some grinding down of the crown, my teeth are almost hitting at the same time. We are getting close.

Although the adjustments Alison is making are actually very tiny – fractional  in actual measurement – that difference is significant  in dental health. The slight  variance in teeth meeting together can result in a whole host of issues, many of which are not good.

Sitting in one of my least favorite chairs,  I am reminded of other areas of life when a small detail can really matter in the success of a project.

In my current role on the Board of Directors for Hackbarth Delivery Service, (the courier and transport service my wife and I began over four decades ago), during quarterly meetings with our executive team, I generally try to focus our discussions on issues at the 50,000-foot level.  As the discourse naturally evolves into details, I frequently direct the conversation away from operational actions to strategic decisions. While this may be necessary in maintaining  reasonable time structure for our meetings, it does not mean that our team should be avoiding the work that is required at the ground level. In fact, avoiding necessary operational action can be detrimental to the overall goals we are trying to achieve.

Author Jeffrey Liker, in his book The Toyota Way, instructs his readers in how to utilize a principle known as kaizen – the Japanese word that means to ‘Go and see. Get your hands dirty.’ Look at things from the ground level. While this technique is presented as a business tool in this best-selling book, it can also apply to the familial and social elements of life.

Most of us have heard many times the expression, ‘You cannot see the forest for the trees.’  It’s another way of emphasizing the 50,000-foot view, or ‘not getting  into the weeds.’  But, how many of us have ever heard someone say, ‘You can’t see the trees because of the forest’?  Huh?   Yes, you also need to see the trees. It ensures that the important bigger picture is not lost. It allows us to measure and see with our own eyes the progress we are making. All of our senses are immersed in the journey.

A successful life requires both views – seeing things from both altitudes.  Always know why we are doing what we are doing, where we are going, and how the trip is unfolding. Some of us may limit our approach to one view or the other, thus limiting our success. If you always get lost in the ‘doing,’ you lose sight of why you are doing it. If you only look at things from an elevated perspective, you may not fully understand the ideology of the journey and the modifications that may be needed along the way.

As Alison completes one more grinding adjustment my thought processes remind me   to not lose sight of the trip. For on the path, we discover the most important element for any long-term success in life. On the journey is where we find a vital part of the equation – people – who are the core essential ingredients to our lives. The path invites us to seek out relationships with our team members. The actual work is always accomplished by those in the field. This is true in careers, retirement, as well as in our family and social lives.

A worthy mission succeeds through the work of a team.

A team succeeds when it fully understands its purpose.

  • On what project are you spending too much time in the weeds? Are you looking at the actual original purpose? Do you understand your ‘Why’?
  • What project is not progressing because you have not taken a ground level view? Is now a good time to ‘go and see’?
  • In the important areas of your life, what needs more ‘forest view” and what needs more ‘trees view’.
  • Is there some area of your life that could be greatly improved with a single small adjustment?

“Yes, that feels right,” I say to Alison after this last grinding action. And because this feels right, the actual original purpose of the crown is realized.

Good dental health is an important goal for all of us. It requires a plan. And that plan requires a trip that will include visits to the dentist. And those visits will result in some modifications and adjustments. Purpose and action. Action and purpose. A great approach to dental health. A great approach to success in life. Know your purpose at the heart level and  in the important areas of your life. Immerse in the details. Go and see.

Today . . .  

I see my journey. I am aware of my purpose.

I know what I am trying to achieve.

I will go and see.

I will succeed.