Sunday, June 12, 2022

The Significance of Small Wins

Is there such a thing as a “small” win?  I think we can challenge this notion as the overall impact is in the eye of the beholder. Jude King shared the following:

Small wins can be as important or even more important than the big ones.  And there are two main reasons why.  First, without the small wins, the big one likely won’t happen — we give up in disappointment and frustration before we get to the big win.  The small wins hold the key to momentum.  They infuse us with motivation to keep going.  Second, the big magical moments, that we like to savor happens infrequently.  Those big, breakthrough moments that completely takes our breathe away…there are only so much of them in one lifetime.  That’s partly why we enjoy them so much.  But the small wins are more frequent — what they lack in size they make up for in numbers.

It is human nature to have a desire to “go big” or make a dramatic change at scale.  While we tend to think that this is the ultimate measure of success, the fact of the matter is that these situations are few and far between. 

The challenge then becomes what happens to motivation daily during any change process.  Research has shown that the small wins are just as important, if not more, than the big ones everyone aspires to achieve.  Below is a summary by Stephen Meyer of a study by Amabile & Kramer (2011):

Over the course of four months, researchers at Harvard conducted a study of over 200 employees at seven different companies.  The study required participants to do one simple thing each day – respond to a survey at the end of their workday.  The survey asked about the participants’ mood, motivation level and what they did at work that day.  The study resulted in over 12,000 survey responses in total, which were then analyzed by the researchers.

According to the head researcher, the type of progress that results in high motivation, engagement and positive feelings doesn’t need to be earth shattering.  In fact, it often isn’t.  “They don’t have to be big breakthroughs or huge successes… small wins can lead people to feel terrific,” she stated.

The immense value in small wins resides in the immediate impact they can have on an individual and the collective.  They also work to:

  • Increase motivation
  • Improve morale
  • Provide autonomy
  • Leverage available resources
  • Make the most out of time
  • Serve as a catalyst to learn from problems expeditiously
  • Foster collaboration

I shared the following in Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms:

We must not discount even the smallest successes during both good and trying times; doing so is a simple and authentic way to build people up and maintain momentum.  Over time these small wins can morph into catalysts for more extensive change efforts.

In actuality, small wins can be huge.  Never discount their impact as they are crucial in setting the stage for bigger ones in the future.

Amabile, T. M., & Kramer, S. J. (2011). The power of small wins. Harvard Business Review, 89(5), 70-80


  1. I call small wins Inchstones or Footstones as opposed to Milestones.

  2. I realized I have and had small wins before and never been so glad about it. However, reading this, I should start to celebrate every win I have in my classroom.