Are You in the Gap? Or the Gain?
Instead of measuring what you’ve missed, measure how far you’ve come.
Have you ever read a book that literally changed your life?
Or at least shifted your mindset?
One of the most profound (but beautifully simple) books I’ve come across recently is The Gap and the Gain by Dan Sullivan and Dr. Benjamin Hardy.
The basic concept behind this book is that when you focus on the progress you’ve made, instead of the progress you haven’t made, you are actually way more likely to feel successful.
So many managers (myself included) struggle to focus on positives rather than negatives. We tend to see the process of “improvement” in terms of how we need to do better – rather than celebrating what we did right.
The irony is, we actually make way more progress when we take an approach that’s focused on gratitude and positivity.
Today, I’d like to dive further into the concept of “the gap and the gain” and how it applies to you as a manager. More than anything, it’s a powerful shift in perspective that I promise will make all the difference for you when it comes to reaching your goals and getting massive results.
Glass Half-Empty vs. Glass Half-Full
“The gap”, as its name suggests, is focusing on what’s missing. On what you don’t have yet.
When you’re in the gap, you’re measuring yourself against standards that are external, including so-called industry standards. Standards created by someone else’s experience.
In the gap, you’re focusing on how far you and your team are falling short in reaching these standards. It’s a negative focus: “What is missing? What are we doing wrong?”
It’s a glass half-empty mentality.
On the other hand, when you’re in the gain your focus is on your success. You do this by measuring backwards to where you started and seeing how far you’ve come from there. Instead of measuring yourself by someone else’s thresholds, you’re using your own historical performance as a reference.
It’s much more of a glass half-full mentality.
Let’s say your delivery speed is quite unpredictable, and you’ve set a goal to improve it. Your goal is to deliver any type of work in less than 5 days, 85% of the time. And let’s say that 2 months later, the 85th percentile on your Cycle Time Scatterplot still points to 12 days.
If you’re in the gap, you’d say, “Well, it’s still taking us twice as long to deliver as we had aimed for. We sure have a long way to go.”
This perspective can easily take the wind out of your sails.
When you’re in the gain, though, your reaction is more like this: “Sure, we didn’t hit our 10-day mark just yet but look how far we’ve come. We’ve built a decision-making system that can now drive us in the right direction.”
Do you see how you’re shifting your focus from “failure” to “opportunity?” Instead of being preoccupied by how far you’ve fallen short, you’re celebrating all the progress you’ve achieved.
Putting It into Context
Let’s go back to the example we were looking at earlier.
Let’s say that the 85th percentile of your cycle time points to 12 days. Don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t hit your 5-day threshold just yet. Don’t stay in the gap. Instead, look back at your past performance.
If 3 months earlier, it pointed at 56 days. That means that within 3 months, your cycle time has gone down to less than a fourth of what it was originally. In that case, I’d say you’re doing fantastic.
Here’s the thing:
As long as you understand why your cycle time is moving over time, you’re in a good place. You should only be worried if your delivery time is changing and you don’t know the reason why.
You need perspective when you evaluate your cycle time. It won’t make sense otherwise.
When it comes to measuring your cycle time to see whether your improvement efforts are paying off, the only thing that makes sense is to look back on your own data.
If you do need a threshold, you need to look to your own past performance – not someone else’s.
Look at your previous cycle time 3 months, 6 months into the past and compare it to how you’re doing now. Look at the numbers. How have the trends built over time? Is your cycle time going up? Going down? Staying consistent?
Those numbers will give you the answer you need. They will tell if you’ve headed in the right direction.
Breaking Down the Paradox
Now, you might say, “Sonya, if I don’t measure my team’s success against where we fall short, we won’t be able to identify ways to improve. We won’t grow – at least, not enough to meet our potential.”
First of all, I understand where you’re coming from. I used to think the same way. A lot of people (maybe most) do. It’s natural to think you’ve got to push yourself that extra step or you’ll get complacent about your results.
But I would ask you this: When you focus on the 5 days you haven’t reached versus those 44 days of improvement you’ve achieved, how do you feel?
Do you feel proud of what you’ve accomplished, or do you feel drained and inadequate?
Do you feel productive and confident, or do you feel pressure from not being good enough and having to do a “better” job next time?
When you’re in the gap, it’s hard not to be demoralized to some degree because the focus is negative: it’s all about what you’re not doing, but need to.
But when you choose to be in the gain, it’s like flipping a switch that takes you from night to day.
Instead of thinking, “we failed to reach our goal again, we have to try harder next time,” you start to realize, “look how far we’ve come. Look what we’ve gained. We went from a total lack of predictability to a consistent pace in 85% of the cases. Look at that. That’s amazing.”
It’s all about perspective.
It’s easier to make new goals and do great work when you measure your results by where you are today compared to yesterday, instead of measuring yourself based on failure.
There’s definitely a fine line between the gap and the gain. It can be easy to confuse “identifying opportunities” with “focusing on your flaws,” and as a result find yourself getting sucked back into the gap. It still happens to me from time to time.
And it’s okay to acknowledge where you fall short, or that you’re discouraged because you didn’t reach that goal you hoped you would. In fact, that’s a necessary part of the process.
What I’m emphasizing here is that you stay in the gain and focus on the positive – don’t be afraid of messing up. This shift in perspective made all the difference for me and my team and I know it can for you and your team, too.
Here is what I want you to walk away remembering:
- The difference between the gap and the gain comes down to a “glass half-empty” versus a “glass half-full” mindset
- When you’re in the gap, you’re measuring yourself against the goal you haven’t achieved so it’s easy to feel like you’re never doing enough
- When you’re in the gain, you measure success based on your starting point. This allows you to see just how far you’ve come, instead of how far you’ve fallen short. It allows you to determine what success looks like and feel way more motivated about your progress
The Gain is a much better place to be. Celebrate all small wins and be grateful for the progress you do make.
If there are others you know who could use some help making the shift from the gap to the gain, please share this article with them on your favorite channels.
Thanks so much for tuning in, and I’ll see you next week for more managerial goodness, same time, same place! Bye for now.
Meet the Author
Sonya Siderova is a passionate product manager and a driving force behind Nave, a Kanban analytics suite that helps teams improve their delivery speed through data-driven decision making. When she's not catering to her two little ones, you might find Sonya absorbed in a good heavyweight boxing match or behind a screen crafting a new blog post.