Thinking Trim Tabs
In 1994 the technology world was turned upside down by an invention called the World Wide Web. In the eye of the storm were a handful of research organisations and companies, including Sun Microsystems, a computer maker where I was employed as a software engineer. The Internet explosion enabled Sun to grow quickly and career growth opportunities abounded. To move ahead, one had to have the proper training and thus it was that one day I found myself in a weeklong leadership course.
On the first day of class, the instructor introduced herself and her company, which was called Trim Tab. Then she explained the meaning of the name. The funny thing is this: there were many topics covered in that training, including how to lead and manage engineers and how to build cutting-edge products, but what I remember most from that class, after all these years, is the Trim Tab.
What is a Trim Tab?
Trim Tabs have to do with setting directions. When sailing a ship, the captain sets direction with the rudder. When flying a plane, the pilot sets the direction using the rudder and the aileron. Now, rudders and ailerons are coarse mechanisms. Making changes with them create large changes in the trajectory which can be a lot of work. A Trim Tab, on the other hand, is a small, secondary fine-tuning mechanism in both boats and planes that makes ever so small adjustments to direction – either to compensate against wind and currents to maintain the original heading, or to approach a new heading.
Over time, the Trim Tab can have a substantial effect on where the boat or plane is going.
But here is the interesting bit. Our instructor described the Trim Tab as a metaphor for making changes in one's life. Thinking about it, I realised it is about a small change giving a big result. But, the change must be sustained over time for this to happen. And you have to know where it is you want to go.
Many profound changes in life can be made with the Trim Tab model. For example, spending twenty or thirty minutes a day exercising, and doing it for a long period of time, improves health and longevity. Other examples in areas of personal growth abound, such as improving one's writing or photography, or pursuing a goal or passion. Many times in life we need to reach a certain (minimum) level of competency before making a big jump. This competency can often be reached using small steps – by the Trim Tab approach.
It turns out my instructor did not invent the Trim Tab idea. Steven Covey's 1989 self-help bestseller Seven Habits of Effective People mentioned it. However, the originator seems to be the visionary Buckminster Fuller who also pictured individuals in the role of Trim Tabs. He said that small, determined groups of people can be catalysts for large changes. History is replete with examples of this.
Over the years, I have found the Trim Tab to be a powerful thinking and empowerment tool. I hope you do, too.