The Big Rocks

Recently, I have been working with a large health-care organization through their strategic planning process. It is quite complex and involves focusing all levels and their associated responsibilities, from the CEO down to the first shift nurse, into alignment around their overall objectives. For a system that employs tens of thousands of individuals and services thousands more, this is no simple feat. The group leading this effort introduced new terminology to try to keep the process as easy to comprehend as possible. They labeled the main key objectives for the institution their “Big Rocks.”  Of course, many of us remember this metaphor from Steven Covey’s book, “First Things First.” He uses this as his foundation for his philosophy on time management and strategic thinking.

Coincidentally, this past weekend, I was reading Michael J. Fox’s new book, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future” and he actually opens his book with a little vignette on “Big Rocks.” In a nutshell, he tells the story of a professor who has a large, empty pickle jar and a set of golf-ball sized rocks. He drops these rocks into the jar until they reach the brim. He then asks the class, “Is the jar full?” and of course, many hands shoot up and say “Yes, its full.” He then pulls out a sack of sand and begins to pour the sand around the rocks. Tiny grains cascade in and around until there is no space left in the jar. “Is it full now?” and the class universally said, “Yes! But wait,” he says, and pulls out a can of beer. He begins to pour the beer all around until every last crevice was filled. “Now – it’s full.”

He finished the story by saying this jar represents your life. Make sure the first ingredients are the big stuff – the big rocks! In our lives, this may be our family, our faith, our friends, our health, our passions, and our careers. In our companies and our organizations – these are the things that absolutely MUST happen in order for us to be individually and collectively successful. These are our #1 priorities. Everything else is supportive of these priorities and in some cases just minutiae.

This makes perfect sense – and yet, we often get caught up in the noise that will do little to support what is really important to us.

Of course, the students then ask the professor,”But, what about the beer?!” And he simply responded: “After everything else, you always need to make room for a couple of beers (or something else) with friends.”

Sure it’s important to keep our eyes and energies on the ‘Big Rocks!” Great advice and a great metaphor! It is equally important to celebrate progress, open something cold,  and say “Cheers!”