Do you need 10,000 steps?

Footsteps in sand

The other day I was on a Zoom call when one of the participants said that lockdown was not helping with their weight. Having spent almost a year sitting at their desk, this person’s weight had risen. They are not alone.

Indeed, the other day I glanced at the “step counter” on my phone to discover a dismal 4,690 steps was all that I had taken that day. And we all know we “should do” 10,000 steps each day, shouldn’t we?

The fact is, the “10,000 step rule” was made up. There was never any evidence to support it. It was guesswork. The science, though, shows that the health benefits of movement kick in at 4,000 steps per day and rise gradually with the maximum benefit reached at 7,000 steps a day. The health benefit of doing those extra 3,000 steps does not exist.

It’s an example of a “rule” being adopted by society without looking at the evidence. You can find a similar step-related rule if you ever listen to a “motivational speaker”. They will repeatedly tell you that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. They base this suggestion on the Chinese proverb that has its roots in 6th Century Taoism. Those motivational speakers are suggesting that if you don’t start doing something, then nothing will happen.

However, much like the 10,000 steps “rule” this “motivational quotation” is also wrong. And if you want proof of that, look no further than Amazon’s Jeff Bezos who took the significant step this week of resigning his post as CEO.

Amazon is a behemoth. When it started, many people didn’t give it a chance. Indeed, there is an often-told story about the launch of Amazon in the UK in London in 1998. After Mr Bezos’ presentation, a crusty old traditional director stood up and said words to this effect: “I can understand why Americans might want a bookshop on the Internet, but it will never catch on in Britain.” The reply from Mr Bezos was illuminating, “Who said I was launching a bookshop?”

Everyone had missed the point. Jeff Bezos already planned a “behemoth” right from the start. The little tick in the company’s logo connecting the A to the Z is deliberate. The company aimed to sell “everything from A to Z online”. Books were just an easy way to get going.

This story reveals that Jeff Bezos was not interested in that motivational quote of starting with a single step. He was interested in the destination. Indeed, if you do “start a journey of a thousand miles with a single step” there is every possibility you will walk around in circles and end up exactly where you started. It is the destination that matters, not the first step.

The fact that Amazon has become such a monopoly is down to meticulous and detailed planning of every single step that gets them to their destination. If you look at the Amazon website from a year ago, there are several differences to the website today. A year ago, there were ten menu items at the top; today, there are 15. A year ago the “select your address” button was in a different position than it is nowadays”. A year ago, the promotional banner at the top was separated from the content below, but now it is integrated. You will not have noticed these changes because they are made step by step, day by day, in a planned rollout. Every day the website changes subtly. If the company made the hundreds of changes all in one go each year, you would freak out, and they wouldn’t be the firm they have become.

Amazon knows precisely where it is headed several years ahead. It works backwards from that position to determine the individual, daily steps it needs to take to get there.

So, let’s compare that to many other businesses, perhaps even yours, dare I say? The lockdowns of the past year have led many people to review their operations. You can find all sorts of advice online about “how to create the best home Zoom set-up” or “ten things you need to buy to make your work at home more productive”. Many people launch in and make wholesale changes. They are taking the 10,000 steps approach. They think “I have to do all of this to survive” citing the “evidence” of random bloggers and YouTubers. That’s not the Amazon approach. They start at the other end of the equation.

For example, where do you want to be in a year from now regarding your appearance on Zoom? Then work out the possibly hundreds of steps you need to take to get there and create a plan of which steps you will take each week to get you to your destination. Many small steps are more effective than one giant leap.

The same is true for those 10,000 steps for your health. If you tried to do your 10,000 steps for the first time today, you might achieve it, but you might also be disappointed. Some people will find it challenging. But what if you started with just 100 steps today and 200 steps tomorrow and 300 steps the day after? In 100 days, you would have achieved 10,000 steps a day, easily. Most people never complete the 10,000 steps “rule” because it all seems too much to achieve.

It isn’t if you take it step by step. And as Jeff Bezos has shown, you can create a massive business if you do the same. It’s the destination that matters, not the first step.

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