Death by 1,000 Paper Cuts

We’ve all done it.  As you open an envelope or turn the pages of a magazine, the paper’s edge slices into your finger, causing you to wince with pain.  While not requiring emergency medical care, a nasty paper cut stings more than a trip to the dentist on Tax Day. Yet these small wounds, if incurred with enough frequency, can be deadly. In Ancient China, death by 1,000 cuts was a torturous form of execution performed on the most notorious criminals. It caused untold pain and suffering, a far worse fate than a quick demise.
Paper cuts play a role in business as well, and can be just as deadly. If a major setback occurs, the entire team leaps into action to forge a solution and regain solid footing. But paper cuts are easily dismissed or ignored, not surfacing to high enough levels until it’s too late. Business paper cuts come in many forms, from disappointing a client to cutting corners in production to missing trends in technology and innovation. The interaction between a boss and a colleague where cultural values are eschewed for personal gain. The white lie told to Wall Street analysts to boost the near-term stock price in order to earn a bonus. The rigid return policy that causes loyal customers to look elsewhere. These small infractions are too often explained away instead of recognized as warning signs of a bigger problem. And just like the horrific outcome of ancient torture, a steady barrage of paper cuts can inextricably wound a company beyond repair. 
Paper cuts can also be a powerful strategy to drive growth and topple our most pressing challenges. Instead of trying to seize a new market in one giant leap, breaking down the mission into 1,000 small wins can add up to your desired outcome. Instead of beating back a competitive threat with a single move, attack with rapid-fire paper cuts to dismantle your enemy with confidence. Whether you’re launching a new product, plotting out an aggressive growth strategy, or retooling your factory, the paper cut approach can help mitigate risk and ensure success.
While we spend our business lives obsessing over the big moves, a focus on those little paper cuts can be even more rewarding. If they are the painful slices, acknowledge them quickly, course-correct, and ensure the pain is quickly stemmed. If you’re on offense, use a rapid-fire series of small advances, micro-innovations, and pebble-sized gains to seize your more alluring opportunities.
Use the paper cut model effectively, and you’ll slice your way to success. No bandages required.