How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

I just finished reading “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell. He is also the author of “Outliers” and “Blink,” each of which is part psychology, part story telling, and part theory application. (If you have yet to read these three books, I highly recommend them for a summer reading list!) A few weeks ago, I wrote about the need for connectors, mavens, and salespeople, a concept from “The Tipping Point.” Today, I would like to address the subtitle of the book: ‘how little things can make a big difference.’ This concept struck me as I began applying it to our daily work.

M. Gladwell tells a story about the crime epidemic in New York City during the 1980s and 1990s. Drugs, murder, and other crimes ran rampant and all of a sudden, the crime rate dropped significantly. Another story describes the development of Sesame Street. Many studies were done to find out what sustained children’s attention. Episodes were pre-viewed by a test audience of toddlers: if it didn’t captivate, it was tweaked until it was broadcast ready.

So what happened? What small changes made crime in NYC stop? What small changes made toddlers pay attention to a television?

The New York subway system was one area of focus. Instead of concentrating efforts on murder or drug deals, graffiti was cleaned off of cars and dollar fare hoppers were stopped. These two little changes changed the mentality of thousands of people who used the subway system on a daily basis. Because the subways system was cleaner and people were held accountable for paying their fares, fewer serious crimes occurred. Similarly, Sesame Street made small changes to the location and size of the text and images on the screen, which helped toddlers focus on only what was important.

Think if we applied this concept to our everyday work. Directly speaking, if there is graffiti on the wall or vomit in the hallway, we get it cleaned up immediately. If a program is not working for our student population, we change it so it better suits our audience.

We have so much on our plates: from student concerns to administrative tasks, and from e-mails to larger picture projects. We talk about being intentional with our work. This becomes so much more real when we put it in “the small things really can make a huge difference” context.

Even if it is just making sure our facilities are squeaky clean, or giving compliments to our student staff where compliments are due, I challenge you to pay attention to small details and act on those to make an even bigger difference, every day.

Katie Schmalzel

Student Affairs - the First Years

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  1. Katie--I love the points you make throughout! I'm reminded of the "broken window theory" from criminology and how those ideologies can carry over to the residence halls in regard to vandalism and building upkeep. Thanks for your perspective and for challenging us all to make even bigger differences!

  2. So thanks for playing, but...nope. The dystopian picture you quote isn't the Natural State of Small Children. Not surprisingly, given your collective level of ignorance of this stage of childhood according to last case study writing papers both you AND Mr. Price are way off the mark here.


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