Little and big, what’s the difference? Little!

There’s very little difference between little and big because there would be no big things were it not for the little things that created them. For example, the biggest or most important part of my life is my wife, who I met because of a little advice. “If you want to meet some nice girls, you’d better go to the dance party at the nursing college this Saturday.” said a friend. Following that little bit of advice led to the most significant event in my life. I’m sure you can think of many similar examples in your own life.

That’s why it’s not surprising that Bruce Barton (1886 ~ 1967) said, “Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things — a chance word, a tap on the shoulder, or a penny dropped on a news stand — I am tempted to think… there are no little things.”

While enjoying a cup of cappuccino with my wife at a mall coffee shop, I noticed a mother and her roughly 12-year-old daughter. They were standing side-by-side at the counter, waiting for their order. While doing so, the mother suddenly turned her head and kissed her daughter on the side of her head with a loud smack. When their drinks arrived, mom and daughter picked them up and walked away. As they went on their way, the mother playfully squeezed her daughter’s cheeks.

Such small things. a kiss on the side of the head and a squeeze on the cheeks. Yet, how enormous the consequences. Is it any wonder the young girl wore a bright smile and walked with confidence? Yes, a gentle kiss and squeeze are small things, but the power of love will carry that girl through a life of happiness and success.

You have the power to behave as that mother does. That is, you have the power to do great things by doing little things. But you first have to tune in to your own power, for as Kakuzo Okakura (1863 ~ 1913) wrote, “Those who cannot feel the littleness of great things in themselves are apt to overlook
the greatness of little things in others.”

Although little things can lead to great things, they can also lead to terrible things. Careless people, for example, may allow a LITTLE dispute to end a GREAT friendship. To prevent that from happening, remember this poem by Julia A. Fletcher Carney (1823 ~ 1908):

Little drops of water,
Little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean
And the pleasant land.

Thus the little minutes,
Humble though they be,
Make the mighty ages
Of eternity.

Thus our little errors
Make a mighty sin;
Drop by drop the evil
Floods the heart within.

Little deeds of kindness,
Little words of love,
Make our earth an Eden,
Like the heaven above.

Remember, also, this poem by Mary Dawson Hughes

It really is the little things
That mean the most of all…
The “let me help you with that” things
That may seem very small,
The “I’ll be glad to do it” things
That make your cares much lighter,
The “laugh with me, it’s funny” things
That make your outlook brighter…
The “never mind the trouble” things,
The “yes, I understand,”
The interest and encouragement
In everything you’ve planned…
It really is the little things,
The friendly word or smile,
That add such happiness to life
And make it more worthwhile.

Great men and women, such as Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi (1869 ~ 1948), Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 ~ 1968), and Mother Teresa (1910 ~ 1997) changed history by performing a serious of little things. I don’t fall into the group of such great men and women, and you probably don’t either. Yet, we can still make a difference. We can still change the world. We can do this by exercising the power of little things, such as embracing life and all those we meet with a smile.

In this paragraph I am veering off in another direction, but it still deals with how a little quantity of little things really matter. Now, how much does matter, matter? Let me explain what I mean. YOU are made of space and matter. The matter is the molecules that form your body and the space is the area used by the molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles to travel in. Your body consists of a small amount of matter swirling around in a vast sea of space.

When some writers discuss this subject, they say that 99.9% of your body is space (emptiness, void) and the rest, matter. Perhaps they say that because we lay people normally don’t think in decimals. For instance when we see the figure 99.9, we read it as “99 point 9” and not “99 and nine-tenths.” Similarly, we read “99.99” as “99 point 99” instead of “99 and 99 hundredths.” Because of this custom, the differences between 99.9, 99.99, 99.999, and so on, may not appear to be great, but they are enormous.

So, how much more space than matter does your body have? It has a million billion times more empty space than solid matter! I guess that little bit of matter that forms YOU matters to you. But what about this subject; does it really matter? It does if you want to live a life filled with mystery, awe, and wonder. You see, the more we study science, the less bored we will be and the more exciting life will become. A little knowledge can make a big change in how we view the mystery of life.

The roles of BIG and LITTLE are equally important in business. For if we wish to be a big success, we’ll have to pay attention to the little things (details). Ben Franklin (1706 ~ 1790) points out how important the little things are if we wish to reach our goals: “For want of a nail the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe the horse was lost; and for want of a horse the rider was lost; being overtaken and slain by the enemy, all for the want of care about a horseshoe nail.” The Chinese perspective is also interesting. Here’s what they say, “Men trip not on mountains; they stumble on stones.”

Little things can have a huge impact. For example, today Toyota is the world’s largest automobile manufacturer and Japanese cars overrun North America. How did that happen? It was just a little thing. The Japanese held themselves to a higher standard. They are more demanding and their idea of an acceptable amount of error is more severe than that of most American manufacturers.

Of course, no manufacturer can be perfect. But to what degree of perfection should industry strive for? How about 99.9%? Well, even if American businesses and services were error-free 99.9% of the time, twelve babies would be given to the wrong parents every day, two and a half million books would be shipped with the wrong covers every year, and 880,000 credit cards in circulation would have incorrect cardholder information on their magnetic strips this year. So, you see, a little thing like doing our very best is no small matter. Just for your reference, the average electric grid that cities depend on for power operate without malfunction 99.9 ~ 99.99% of the time. And Motorola has achieved Six Sigma quality levels (a failure rate of 3.4 parts per million or 99.9997%).

How much can we improve ourselves? Well, if we carry in our heart the message found in the following little poem, I’m sure it will make a big difference in our lives and those we meet.

Little stones make big mountains
Little steps can cover miles
Little acts of loving-kindness
Give the world its biggest smiles

Little words can soothe big troubles
Little hugs can dry big tears
Little candles light the darkness
Little memories last for years

Little dreams can lead to greatness
Little victories to success
It’s the little things in life
That brings the greatest happiness

Lastly, if you wish to explore more about how little things can have a huge impact, you may enjoy reading THE TIPPING POINT, How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell, published by Little Brown, 2000.