by Kathie England

Stacking Rocks…Small Steps

Written by Bob Knopp, UnCommon Sense

A few years ago I built a small, decorative garden wall from stone. It was easy. It took two dozen stones about the size of bricks and I didn’t engineer it to last for generations. The whole project was finished in around an hour, but the change it made to that part of the garden was remarkable.

Stone walls are built one stone at a time. I couldn’t go buy a stone wall and tilt it up in the garden like builders do with concrete warehouse walls. I had to buy the stones, haul them home, figure out which to install first, and then stack them up. Small steps, of course, but it’s kind of cheating, isn’t it? A little garden wall isn’t much of a project and it is a stretch to say I really accomplished much. But it scales very nicely.
Back in the year 1163, a bunch of stone masons started hacking up some limestone and stacking it into walls. They kept at it until the year 1345. When they were finished, their stack of limestone blocks turned out to be the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. 182 years of piling rocks on top of each other. That’s a lot of small steps.

When Kathie talks about her project, My 1000 Small Steps, that may not be enough, but it is a good number to get you thinking about taking more than a few steps. It is important to understand that even very large projects or goals can be parsed into bite-sized increments.

While thinking about these two projects, I came to realize a couple of axioms about small steps. First, the size of your project has no bearing on whether it can or cannot be accomplished with small steps. The only things that limit you are time, money, and other material resources. Dividing the process into ever smaller steps can help with management of these resources as well. But there is no project too small or too large that would not benefit from using small steps. Buildings, governments, and civilizations were all created one step at a time and they can all be changed one step at a time.

Second, small steps not only offer the obvious advantage of reducing the amount of work to manageable increments, they also give you an opportunity to make adjustments more frequently. A builder who pours a hundred square foot slab and then stands it up only to find a crack right down the back has to start over. A stone mason building a wall gets to check every stone as he goes. If he finds a bad one, he can replace it and continue with no backtracking.

Here is another interesting observation about small steps. I could claim that projects finished using small steps are more durable. My little garden wall is still standing after a couple of years. The Notre-Dame Cathedral is still standing after a couple of world wars and a French revolution. The question is: Can that durability be traced to using small steps?

Try this: During the construction of Notre-Dame, the design was changed to increase the height of the main walls. While building these higher walls, the architect noticed that they were beginning to buckle at the top. If you remember history, you already know what comes next. One of the things that makes Notre-Dame distinct and famous is its use of the Flying Buttress. These added-on supports solved the problem of wandering walls. It was the use of small steps that allowed the architect to make the adjustment that saved the whole project.

Everything changes over time and it’s the 1000 small steps that allow us to keep buildings, governments, and civilizations relevant.


I invite you to ponder your progress taking small steps since January 20, 2017, the day I launched this project, My 1000 Small Steps.

Bob Knopp is the fourth guest writer who agreed to help me keep the commitment of publishing a blog and newsletter each month until November 2020 to encourage us to keep taking small steps to resist and change the political climate in this country.

I conclude this month’s post with a wonderful short video that my friend, David Poulshock, discovered. David is a filmmaker, director, writer, editor, and one of the most creative people I know. (David’s production company is Red Door Films.) This video explains how even creativity involves small steps. I hope it inspires you to keep taking small steps!