On doing 10% more

“The reason for my success was in doing 10% more. 10% more than anyone else, 10% more than anyone expected. 10% more.” Joanna reminisces about advice from her grandfather about working smarter, solving problems, and going beyond what is expected. Just 10% more can make an enormous difference.

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On Father’s day, I watched my friends’ posts about their fathers and thought of the fathers I’ve had in my life. I, like many people, had more than one male parent. More than one person who fathered me in my journey to becoming who I am today. They each had a unique and individual impact on who I am, and I’m grateful to them all. Today, however, I focus on my Grandfather and the idea of 10% more.

My Grandfather and I had a unique bond. For reasons I’ll never understand Grandpa decided it was his job to push this precocious little girl. To be the one who both saw her potential and turned around and asked her to be more. Sound familiar? Funny how that works isn’t it?

Beach huts in Felixstowe, UK.

I have vivid memories of going out on walks. We used to head out along the road high overlooking the cold surf of the English Channel and have lengthy discussions about how one should live one’s life. He had amazing stories to tell. His work had taken him all over the world building things both in England and far-flung places like Sidi Barrani, Egypt as a highly respected civil engineer. He fought in the first world war and protected his family through WWII. He witnessed man progress from driving horse and carriage to walking on the moon. Our conversations were full of excitement, danger, and adventure. In the end, however, there was always a moment where he’d turn to me and say, “This is what I learned…” 

I’d like to say I was smart enough at the time to write them all down. I wasn’t. I do vividly remember one conversation that stuck with me over the years. A conversation that led to Grandpa saying,

The reason for my success was in doing 10% more. 10% more than anyone else, 10% more than anyone expected. 10% more.

— Denis Coleman (1899-1996)

For the longest time, I thought he meant that he worked harder than anyone else. “More” meant more time, more effort, more attention. I can be a bit lazy so the idea of that kind of “more” didn’t appeal much. It still doesn’t.

What I’ve come to realize in both examining my life and helping others navigate theirs is that many of us see more as just volume. But what Grandpa was trying to say was more wasn’t work harder, it was work smarter. When I think about all his stories, they gave me examples of how more was actually about having a unique point of view on a problem, or more was understanding the why behind a question like “How do you find water in the middle of a desert?” 

More wasn’t checking the boxes of tasks put before him, more was uncovering the problem and solution needed that wasn’t in the original specification. Solving it, of course, with the exacting preciseness and accuracy of his engineering mind.

I figured out what he meant eventually and have been trying to think about that “10% more” since then. It does make a difference. And if you apply it in your particular way your 10% more could make a difference for you too.

Joanna passing on the wisdom to the next generation.

PS. Grandpa, you died before I figured this out. You left before you could see that I understand your lesson that science needs art, and that art needs science. You haven’t got to know the woman I’ve become. I hope I make you proud. I’m trying to be 10% more.

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