Everything is white, completely white. I look up and the sky is covered with a sheet. I look down and the snow is knee deep. Everywhere around there is a thick fog and it is also white. A strange feeling, claustrophobic – you can see really close around, it is like a small white room, but at the same time you know you are in avast open space, with almost no trees or much else around.
“Keep going, don’t stop….. we need to catch up”
A women in her late thirties is behind me, she keeps urging me to move on. But I can’t. I am so tired! My legs hurt and I am out of breath. I just want to stop and sit down….but I can’t. It is getting late and we are behind the others.
The group has split, because I was too slow to keep up with the rest. The leaders (a family) decided to leave the wife with me and the father led the rest of the scouts to reach the hut because it was getting late and the weather was getting worse.
Eventually, we reached the hut as well – one and a half hours late. I was thirteen at the time and this was one of the regular trips we were doing on weekends with the scout club. I learned a lot from those experiences and grew an endless passion and love for the outdoors and nature. Later on I heard from a different scout leader a method that would have proven very useful in during that day.
The guy was explaining leading techniques for groups and one of the key things he said was that the slowest should be first.
The slowest should be first
But why? For starters, if you put the slowest person at the back you get the situation I was in – the faster ones in the group keep pressing on and soon enough the group is separated. They can wait (and often do) but when the slower part finally catches up they are still exhausted while the faster part has been resting and is eager to push on again. Soon after moving they have separated once more.
By switching places and putting the slowest person at the front everyone need to follow the same pace. The pace that is comfortable for the slow one will certainly be achievable for the faster people in the group. Now you suddenly have a single unit moving together, communicating, caring and solving problems together.
Moreover, you have a single problem to solve if you want to make the group move faster – make the slowest person move faster. You can do that by making sure he has less load, comfortable clothing, is hydrated and energised with the appropriate food. The whole focus is on improving that one person’s weaknesses to help them go faster, because that will make the whole group go faster.
Eventually, the leaders of my club learned that lesson and we started implementing it in our group as well. We would distribute the food, clothing and weight from the slowest person’s backpack between the whole group.
Your weakest link
Often understanding a principle in one situation doesn’t mean you can easily transfer it to other situations, because as people we fail to see the similarities more often than not. But using the example of the group we can draw a parallel to our own lives and by focusing on the weakest links and strengthening them, we can improve whatever the situation is.
Lets imagine that you want to plan a trip to Madrid in the summer. First you need to know what your plan has to include in order to be complete – dates, plane tickets, place to sleep, areas to visit, costs. Then, you need to ask yourself – “What is my biggest challenge in getting this plan done?”. What is the one thing that if you remove or complete will make everything else much easier? For example, your main difficulty might be in finding enough time to actually do it. You might tell yourself “I want to do this trip” but then four months later you find yourself having done nothing about it. So your weakest link is dedicating specific time to work on organising the trip. Put it in the calendar every week, dedicate an hour and you have overcome that part.
At that point, there will be other weaknesses to go through – you can spend too much time researching places to visit, but not actually making any progress on tickets or somewhere to stay. Dedicate those to someone else you might be travelling with or leave the research of places to visit for last.
In every group there is a person that will be the slowest. For every goal, in every moment there will be something that is the biggest obstacle on the way to achieving that goal. Do not waste your energy on anything else, but focus on the biggest problem, the one that if solved will make everything else go smoother. So before you do anything or if you feel you are not making any progress stop and consider what is the weakest link in your situation. Then:
a) Direct your attention to overcoming it. If not
b) Delegate it to someone else. If not
c) Decide to not do it at all if possible.
P.S.: The story in this article is something that occurred in my life. I knew about the “slowest first” principle for years, but never linked it to solving problems in my life in such a way until I read a similar principle in the book Essentialism: The disciplined pursuit of less. I highly recommend that book.