The Razor’s Edge

What is the difference between success and failure? History has shown that often times it’s not very much. This slight difference has been called the “razor’s edge.” Also known as the tipping point, or going the extra mile, it’s the seemingly minor or routine action which causes an unpredictably large and sudden reaction, because of the cumulative effect of small actions. The phrase “the tipping point” was first used in sociology by Morton Grodzins when he adopted the phrase from physics where it referred to the adding a small amount of weight to a balanced object until the additional weight caused the object to suddenly and completely topple, or tip. “Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push—in just the right place—it can be tipped.” ― Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point.

In the 1976 Olympic games in Montreal Canada there were eight competitors in the final of the 100 meter sprint. The runner who won was just one-tenth of a second faster than the runner who came in LAST.

Vince Lombardi, a famous American football coach was credited with the concept of “second effort.” In football, when a player was initially stopped by the opposing team, he would surge forward a second time with an added effort. This idea of second surge is shown by the achievement of the athlete Milt Campbell who came second in the Decathlon in the 1952 Olympic games. He didn’t give up, but rather put in a second effort, and in the games four years later he won gold. He said that in high school many of the athletes he competed against were far superior to him. But at some point in their career they decided to give up and the “razor’s edge” difference for Milt Campbell was that he decided to keep going, and he kept going till he became the best in the world.

John Wooden who was the first man to make it into the basketball hall of fame as both a player and coach knew the importance of small things making the difference. On the first day of meeting his new team at the start of the season, one might think he would talk tactics or fitness, but no. It was something else completely: It was how to fold their kit: “I wanted absolutely no folds, wrinkles, or creases of any kind on the sock. I would demonstrate for the players and then have the players demonstrate for me. This may seem like a nuisance… but I had a very practical reason for being meticulous about this. Wrinkles, folds, and creases can cause blisters. Blisters interfere with performance during practice and games…These seemingly trivial matters, taken together and added to many, many other so-called trivial matters, build into something very big: namely, your success.”

I end with this story that shows the potential tremendous impact of a small act on the Razor’s Edge: “Mark was walking home from school one day when he noticed the boy ahead of him had tripped and dropped all of the books he was carrying, along with two sweaters, a baseball bat, a glove and a small tape recorder. Mark knelt down and helped the boy pick up the scattered articles. Since they were going the same way, he helped to carry part of the burden. As they walked Mark discovered the boy’s name was Bill, that he loved video games, baseball and history, that he was having a lot of trouble with his other subjects and that he had just broken up with his girlfriend. They arrived at Bill’s home first and Mark was invited in for a Coke and to watch some television. The afternoon passed pleasantly with a few laughs and some shared small talk, then Mark went home. They continued to see each other around school, had lunch together once or twice, then both graduated from junior high school. They ended up in the same high school where they had brief contacts over the years. Finally the long awaited senior year came, and three weeks before graduation, Bill asked Mark if they could talk. Bill reminded him of the day years ago when they had first met. “Do you ever wonder why I was carrying so many things home that day?” asked Bill. “You see, I cleaned out my locker because I didn’t want to leave a mess for anyone else. I had stored away some of my mother’s sleeping pills and I was going home to take them all. But after we spent some time together talking and laughing, I realized that if I had done that, I would have missed that time and so many others that might follow. So you see, Mark, when you picked up my books that day, you did a lot more. You saved my life.”

Frank Costelloe, Los Angeles

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #50 | 2015, The Razor’s Edge

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