Ping Pong Balls and Change-Making

Have you ever felt frustrated that all of your efforts in trying to make change happen might count for nothing? Do you keep chipping away but see no real progress? Here’s a story that will encourage you to keep going.

Last week at one of our Change Makers’ workouts, our guest conversationalist Justin Douché introduced us to a cool story about how to raise a sunken ship using ping pong balls. All you do is gradually pump a whole lot of ping pong balls into the hull of the ship until they reach a critical mass whereby the ship is lifted out of the mud and up to the surface.

Here’s a clip that shows that in action.

I love this as a metaphor for how we can make change happen. Here are some of my take-outs:

  • Have a vision for the change you want to see. (Hint: think big, like Stephen Hawking’s idea of cathedral projects).
  • Identify the foundational behaviours that will contribute to the change you want to see
  • Demonstrate one of those foundational behaviours every day.
  • Know that you might not see the difference that the thing you do on one particular day makes.
  • Keep going
  • One day you’ll reach a tipping point. And then it will look like an overnight success to everyone else.

Along these lines, George Leonard wrote a wonderful little book called Mastery. According to him, the process of attaining mastery in any field is mostly about simply doing the work, without necessarily seeing any visible signs of improvement or success. Then one day, a breakthrough occurs, and you suddenly leap up to a new level. The discipline of sticking with it in the face of the challenge is the key.

How often do we drive ourselves and our people really hard, expecting immediate results, and then getting frustrated when we don’t see them? 

What if, instead, we:

  • described a clear and compelling vision for what we want
  • discerned and committed to demonstrating the key behaviours that give us what we want
  • designed systems that make it easy for us to live those behaviours every day? 

What sort of world might that create?

What do you reckon? Is this idea too simple? Or is it on the money? I’d love your thoughts on this one. 

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