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Loose Change

I can remember as an impoverished student visiting my working brothers in their first flat. I

was amazed to see in every room large glass jars or empty ice-cream tubs overflowing with loose change. To me they were veritable treasure chests: to them, they were essential repositories for objects that served no immediate purpose.

Individually, the coins in our pocket seem fairly worthless. They jingle about in an annoying, distracting and leaden way. But collectively, the coins in a jar have substantial value.

We live with change. But change doesn’t always live comfortably with us. Why? Maybe it’s because we don’t have a firm grip on change and manage it in a loose and uncontrolled way. 

I’m a believer in the value of small change. That is, change which is managed in an incremental way, building up to something really worth having. Sadly, too many change programmes fail to take charge of the small stuff, and fail to make a connection between the small steps taken towards the final destination. People don’t always know why they are being asked to do things differently; they see the change as an unwelcome, useless distraction with no final purpose.  In short, the change is loose. And that’s why they prefer to bury it away out of sight.

A family friend studying for a PhD student was giving advice to future PhD students on a University website. She referred to the concept of TNT: The Next Thing. Her assertion is that as long as you know the next thing required of you, you’ll be OK. The next thing might be a little thing, a piece of that small change, but as each Next Thing adds up, we move closer to our end goal.

So how can we ensure that we take full account of each small piece of change?

  1. First, we need to see where it’s leading, and that destination needs to be compelling; acting like a magnet drawing us towards it. (Be clear what we’re saving for)

  2. Second, we need to appreciate that change doesn’t have to be a big bang: even big change can be delivered in bite-size chunks. (Every penny counts)

  3. Third, we need to break down the programme of change into manageable, coherent and structured pieces of small change; each one discretely delivering some recognizable value. (Too many coins in the pocket at the same time are unwieldy)  

  4. Fourth, we should routinely remind ourselves of how each step is moving us forward towards our planned goal.  (The equivalent of counting up the loose change at regular intervals)

 Once a year, my brothers would empty their jars of coins into bags and take them to the bank. That’s when they realized they’d been sitting on a goldmine.

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