Little Big Things

Border marker between Minnesota and Wisconsin embedded in the surface of the St. Croix Crossing Bridge

St. Croix Crossing is a new bridge between Oak Park Heights, Minnesota and Houlton, Wisconsin. It is a beautiful, almost-mile long, four-lane span across the St. Croix River, replacing the historic, 1931 lift bridge between Stillwater, MN and Houlton. The bridge was controversial because of its cost ($650 million) and the environmental impact on the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. A bill in the US House of Representatives was required to clear some of the regulatory hurdles to building this bridge! After more than 20 years of debate, research, and three years of construction, the bridge opened earlier this month. One of the interesting features of the bridge, which sits 140 feet above the water, is a wide walking and biking path on the northern side of the bridge. Last Sunday, Julie and I joined other Minnesotans and Wisconsinites for the two-mile round-trip walk.

I’m an amateur photographer. So I packed my camera and lenses for this walk. It was a hazy day and I didn’t get fantastic pictures. Nevertheless, I took more than 100 shots and kept about 70. You can see most of the untouched photos here.

As we were walking along, pausing frequently for pictures, my eyes were constantly scanning for interesting angles, perspectives, and features to photograph. Most of the time, I was looking out and up. Rarely down.

But at one particular moment, about halfway across the bridge, I did look down.

What I saw surprised me at first. For a moment, I wasn’t sure what it was. Then I connected all the dots and realized it was a boundary marker between the states of Minnesota, founded in 1858, and Wisconsin, founded in 1848. Only about 4″ in diameter, it was very easy to miss.

Here I was, straddling the line between the two states, 140′ above the surface of the St. Croix River. This marker was perhaps the tiniest feature of the entire, colossal structure of a bridge.

St. Croix Crossing Bridge

I wondered to myself how many people walk or bike across this bridge and never see this marker. I’m sure most miss it.

Most people miss the point of transitioning from one state to another. They could easily and incorrectly tell someone, “I’m calling you from Minnesota, on the new St. Croix bridge.” They miss moving from Viking land to Packer land. From the Land of 10,000 Lakes to the Badger State. And back again.

It’s a little thing, but it’s a big thing, the difference between two states.

We often miss little big things in our teams and organizations, too.

We miss body language that signals frustration, or disengagement, or disagreement, or defeat.

We miss word choices that reveal beliefs and attitudes about work and relationships.

We miss symbols and artifacts that communicate volumes about people’s deepest desires, convictions, and dreams.

Try an experiment with me. Once each day for the next week, ask someone about something you see in their office cube or on their desk. (This is published on Friday, so you may need to write yourself a reminder to do this next week.)

Notice the little things and find out how big they are in that person’s life. Ask, “You know, I’ve seen that … whatever the thing is … a million times, but I’ve never asked what that means to you. Could you tell me about it?”

You might hear, “Oh, it’s nothing. Someone gave that to me at an office party and I never threw it away.” OK. Move on and try again.

Or, you might hear, “Mmmm … that brings back memories. It’s a memento of …” and then you’ll hear a heartfelt story.

It’s a little big thing.

Discover the little big things in people’s lives. Notice the little big things in your office culture. Cherish and nurture the little big things that make your culture special.

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.

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