The Amazing Power of Incremental Steps (And Why It Develops Client’s Skills Rapidly)

The Amazing Power of Incremental Steps (And Why It Develops Client’s Skills Rapidly)

A few weeks ago I went for swimming classes

It’s not that I can’t swim, but I’ve only ever learned the breaststroke. And if you’re a swimmer, the breaststroke doesn’t get you anywhere in a hurry. And so I went to learn freestyle. Except that’s when I ran into a whole lot of trouble.

Why would you run into trouble, you may ask?

There’s nothing to freestyle. You move your arms in sequence through the water and use your legs to propel you forward. Except that it wasn’t so easy for me at all. There I was clinging to a float, trying to get the sequence right, not kicking my legs—and generally failing miserably. So I was asked to stop swimming and told to walk in the shallow end of the pool instead.

First I started with the walk and moved my arms.
Then I swam and moved my arms and my legs.
Then I was miraculously swimming.

And the reason for this ‘miracle’ is obvious

It’s called incremental steps. So yeah, we all understand the concept of incremental steps. We all feel the need for incremental steps and yet the moment we give out information we get sudden amnesia. Your presentation for instance, won’t cover one point in great detail. Instead it will kangaroo-hop all over the countryside.

If we’re dealing with a client one on one, we try to ram down everything in that one consulting session. If we’re teaching a course, the information comes out like a freakin’ firehose. And as we’ve already established, we utterly detest being treated in this fashion, when we’re customers.

Or do we?

No we don’t. But yes we do. And let’s find out the reason for this paradox. When we sign up for something as customers, we want the maximum knowledge/advice we can get. So the more bullet points we encounter, the more features/benefits we read, the more excited we get. But then something weird happens.

We can’t consume all of this information, no matter how simple. The information becomes a curse. And so it’s at this point that we want the ‘teacher’ to take us ahead one step at a time.

Which is why you need to map out your information to have incremental steps

And the way to have incremental steps is to literally take one step at a time. So if for instance, you wanted to get folks on a forum in preparation for a course, you’d actually follow steps like this:

Day 1: Register in the forum.
Day 2: Read instructions.
Day 3: Post your photo.
Day 4: Introduce yourself.
Day 5: Meet your group.

Sounds inane? Sounds like these steps are too small?

Well, you’ll be surprised how many people get stuck at the first few steps themselves. It’s incredibly important to have very tiny first steps. If your client slips and falls on the first steps, then any further progress is at risk. But if they move ahead, a sense of achievement is created, enabling them to stay on course.

But every situation is different

A course is different from a presentation. A presentation is different from a consulting session. So how do you go about creating the steps? The way to do the breakdown is to list all the possible steps. Then list all the possible sub-steps. And then get your client to go about the every step, then every sub-step, before moving to the next step.

In swimming terms this would mean getting the arm movements right step by step. Then the leg movements. Then the head under water. Then the breathing—and so on. Every step would need smaller sub-steps and inane as it may sound to you, this is the fastest method for the customer to learn a new skill or concept.

Fastest? It sounds deathly slow!

It is slow, but think about my swimming lesson. If I consistently goofed up for every one of those 30 minutes, what would I feel at the end of the lesson? You got it: I’d feel lousy. I’d feel like I wasn’t capable of learning to swim freestyle. And I’d do what all of us do on a consistent basis: I’d waddle right back to my comfort zone. And I’d never develop that particular skill.

At Psychotactics we teach clients to develop complex skills

One of our courses is cartooning. Another is article writing. Another is copywriting. If you take apart these courses, you have hundreds of moving parts for every skill. And you have great resistance, because often people think they need to be born writers or born artists. And that’s utter nonsense. If you are able to break up a skill into hundreds of parts and get the person to master one part at a time, they just master it. And they magically become talented (just like I magically learned the freestyle).

There’s another advantage to this incremental system of teaching

If a student follows incremental steps, doing just one step at a time, they can’t go very much off tangent. If they go off track, you can pull them back and they’re back on track. If they attempt to do seventeen things at a time, you’ve got real trouble. And if you’re teaching seventeen people at the same time, then you’ve got a Category 5 hurricane blowing your way! What’s worse is that the students don’t learn as well. And they blame themselves, blame you, or worse believe it’s a lack of talent.

It’s not talent at all.
It’s a lack of teaching ability.
The ability to teach with incremental steps.
One splash at a time.

Using Incremental Steps leads to your clients developing skills rapidly. Click here—To share how you used incremental steps with your clients and what happened.

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  1. says

    As a consultant just starting out, I sometimes go too fast. In my mind, I see the entire road map, while the client is just taking the first steps. I have learned to take things step by step and to check in with my clients, adapting to their pace so that we are moving together. After all, along with great results, we should be enjoying ourselves along the way!

    I also realize how important visuals are to illustrating a process. My goal is to create process workflows and templates to share online. And to improve these ongoing based on the work with my clients.

  2. says

    Well, I teach English. I have been doing it for 12 years now. It is quite a challenge as I use only English in the classroom so it is highly important to apply incremental steps. However, I just got into trouble with a beginner’s class as I haven’t taught beginners for a while: I realised I had taken too big steps. Everything is not lost, I have to cut them back and things will go fine. It is just a great lesson that everyone is defferent. Every group is different. You’re right, Sean, failure is – in most cases – lack of teaching ability.

  3. says

    Hey Sean,

    I use the Discover/Optimize/Expand 3-step system with my AdWords clients.

    No way can you go with an unlimited budget (your mission) until its safe to do so and you’ve fine tuned the machinery accordingly.

    And it’s absolutely like trying to drive a car – you wouldn’t get in a car with no lessons or experience at all and attempt to drive at full speed in busy traffic would you??

  4. says

    I’ve been using incremental steps to teach my yoga students. For an easy breathing exercise the first thing I have them do while sitting upright is rock their pelvis back and forwards.
    Then I have them noticing the way their lower back bends back and forwards as they do this.
    Then I have them focus on bending their ribcage with their lower back (it does bend). and then they can focus on feeling their ribs lifting and lowering as they bend their spine backwards and forwards.
    The key is having them do the movements slowly and smoothly so that they can focus on feeling their body. Generally the smoother they move the better it feels.
    Also the nice thing about this incremental stuff is that as a teacher I can see when one or more students aren’t getting it, so I break it down further. Or if they already know it then I move to a more advanced exercise that builds on what they have already learned.
    I’ve used the same technique to learn how to paint chinese characters.

  5. says

    Hi Anne. You’d find our cartooning classes quite soothing in comparison :) But we have them just once a year. So the next one won’t be until late August next year.

    Your system is on target (as you described above). Too much learning is hurry, hurry, hurry—and driven by speed. Slow is a much better way to learn. It focuses the brain on what’s wrong, and hence what’s correct.

  6. says

    One of my dreams is to be a cartoonist. So I went for classes – and my teacher tried to teach me how to draw cartoons in 2 days. No instrumental steps for me, just one giant leap to failure. PS1: I teach my staff in incremental steps: break it down in doable, understandable steps, FEEDBACK after each step. It’s the feedback that is so important. Those being measured see the results of the measurement. They also understand how these measurements were calculated. If this does not happen, they do not know how to improve their performance. Choose correct indicator to measure. After every incremental step they are offered more responsibility. Their development is further facilitated by job rotation, secondment to other departments, constant coaching and mentoring, and encouragement to acquire professional qualifications. PS2: please send me info on your cartooning classes.

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