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Baby Steps & Crawling Before You Walk

In discussions with clients and potential clients about projects or proposals that require them to step outside their comfort zone, I often hear two expressions:

  • We need to crawl before we walk
  • We want to get active online, but we need to take baby steps

I had never spent much time thinking about those statements before. I have heard both in the last few weeks regarding a project I’m working on. Ironically, Baby Quip is on the verge of crawling. Between thinking about the project and watching her, I realized exactly the former comment is terribly inappropriate. Thinking about Little Quip’s first attempts at walking, I realized the latter is as well.

They’re meant to convey a sense of trepidation, a deliberate approach to an endeavor that takes things slowly in an effort to minimize exposure. Unfortunately, that’s actually nothing like baby steps or learning to crawl.

Baby Quip is extremely aggressive. She is constantly pushing the envelope – flopping over onto her side to move to a crawling position, throwing herself here and there in an effort to move around. She is extremely determined to get from rolling to crawling to walking. Crawling before you walk? Hardly! If she could jump to two feet and take off at a full sprint, she’d be all over it. Yes, she must developmentally do one before, but she wouldn’t hesitate to skip a step. In the business world, such hesitance is not required.

That raises the latter comment. Since hesitance is not required, the baby steps comment implies a slow and cautious approach, but does it really? Heck no! Thinking back to Little Quip’s early days of mobility, he too was exceedingly aggressive in trying to walk. He would take small steps (which is where the term comes from, I suppose). However, he would take them very quickly, fall on his ass, get back up, and take even more. The falling didn’t bother him at all.

In common usage, “baby steps” means exactly the opposite. It means going very slowly because you don’t want to fall down. It means moving at a turtle’s pace to minimize the risk of exactly that. But baby steps, by nature, result in falls, spills, and trips. Early walkers understand that and accept it as part of the process. Again, they do these things due to physical limitations.

It’s funny that we have come to use terms that describe physical constraints to explain our mental ones. The next time anyone offers clich√©s as a way of expressing their timidity, I ought to introduce them to my kids.

Written by Michael Turk