Big, Wonderful Rocks in your Jar
While rocks in the road or in your head are bad; rocks in a jar are wonderful. I love the story of the teacher who wants to teach priorities with rocks and a jar. When I talk to teams, I often ask them what are the big rocks in the deal, solution, or problem. A few usually will get a gleam in their eye and immediately respond. A few others, look at me like I’m nuts. I usually end up telling the story to the team with a small twist at the end. I’ve even done it as a demo for teenagers and it goes over far better than a lecture.
The BIG Rocks and the Jar: A Lesson in Making Priorities
A high school science teacher wanted to demonstrate a concept to his students. He takes a large-mouth jar and places several large rocks in it. He then asks the class, “Is it full?
“Unanimously, the class reply, “Yes!“
The teacher then takes a bucket of gravel and pours it into the jar. The small rocks settle into the spaces between the big rocks.
He then asks the class, “Is it full?“
This time there are some students holding back, but most reply, “Yes!“
The teacher then produces a large can of sand and proceeds to pour it into the jar. The sand fills up the spaces between the gravel.
For the third time, the teacher asks, “Is it full?
“Now most of the students are wary of answering, but again, many reply, “Yes!“
Then the teacher brings out a pitcher of water and pours it into the jar. The water saturates the sand. At this point the teacher asks the class, “What is the point of this demonstration?“
One bright young student raises his hand and then responds, “No matter how full one’s schedule is in life, he can always squeeze in more things!“
“No,” replies the teacher, “The point is that unless you first place the big rocks into the jar, you are never going to get them in. The big rocks are the important things in your life …your family, your friends, your personal growth. If you fill your life with small things, as demonstrated by the gravel, the sand, and the water…you will never have the time for the important things.
So, what are the “Big Rocks” in your life? Spending time with your children, your parents or your spouse? Taking the seminar or class to get the information and perspective you need to succeed? Making the time to set goals, plan or evaluate your progress? When you are hassled because there is no time, remember the story about the Big Rocks and the Jar!
I’m always surprised by how many people don’t do this in their lives or their projects. The both seem to become crowded with trivia. I recently read an SOW and after over 60 pages, I could not discern the solution we were selling, which is very bad. I did know about that client’s industry’s problems, we had a lots of experts in that industry, and my company is really, really, really, really big. Unfortunately, none of those things mattered to this client who was trying to find a firm to do a package selection.
Eventually, we did get it corrected. The team was able to articulate to me and later on paper, what was the client’s problem, what our solution to their problem was, and why our solution was better. And we even won the deal and wrote a much shorter SOW. That is why I say “big, wonderful rocks”.
The twist on this story works well especially with older kids. At the end, after you’ve explained the meaning of the rocks, gravel, sand, and water, you pour a beer over the top explaining there is always time for a beer especially with friends.
I find the rock and jar story a great metaphor for life. It misses one aspect that I’ll cover in my next blog. The big rocks are never singular. They are compositions of lots of smaller items. Building your career or having a wonderful family is not a onetime only and done event. How do you stay focused on the most important, but smaller items. It is not easy, but there is another story that can help. That is for the next entry.