Bullets then Cannonballs!

I’m currently reading the sequel of Good to Great by Jim Collins, called “Great by Choice.”  I love these business books, especially Collin’s, because they always seem to reveal those one or two principles that every leader should pay attention to.  Collins and his colleague, Morten Hansen, draw some interesting and counterintuitive conclusions from their research. They found that the successful leaders in their studies were not the most “visionary” or the biggest risk-takers; instead, they tended to be much more disciplined, relying on evidence over gut instinct and preferring consistent gains to blow-out winners.  Also, successful companies had learned to “scale innovation”—introducing changes gradually, then moving quickly to capitalize on those that showed promise, rather than making wholesale or abrupt change.

I especially like the chapter that is devoted to the dynamic of  “shooting bullets-before-firing-cannonballs”.  The metaphor is built around the story of Roald Amundsen and Robert Scott, the two men who set out separately, in October 1911, to become the first explorers to reach the South Pole.  Amundsen won the race by setting ambitious goals for each day’s progress but also by being careful not to over extend himself or his team on good days or under achieve on bad ones.  Scott, by contrast, overreached on the good days and fell apart on the bad ones, which very much so contributed to his ultimate failure to reach the South Pole first.  Interestingly, Scott and his four-member expedition team all died of exhaustion and starvation on the return trip.

To me, the “bullets-then-cannonballs” philosophy of leadership is incredibly helpful as it relates to fulfilling vision and mission in a more disciplined, strategic, and prudent manner.  In a church, it intentionally partners faith with wisdom, so you’re not overextending yourself, nor are you underachieving; but you are in perfect step with the Spirit of God in living and acting out his purposes (Gal. 5:25).  It’s the Amundsen mindset of not overshooting in the good “days or seasons” and not undershooting in the bad “days or seasons.”  Fact is, the journey of following Jesus and being involved in his mission is going to be an expedition through flooded rivers, fiery battles, and valley’s of death (Is. 43:1-3)- and yes, of course, mountains of glory, so, like Amundsen arriving first at the South Pole, it will do you well to not merely set the course, but to pace yourself both by faith, and with wisdom.


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