Jason Lengstorf

Constant, gentle pressure

How do you accomplish big things (and not end up too burned out to enjoy your success)? You need to apply constant, gentle pressure.

Jason Lengstorf
written by Jason Lengstorf

There's this sneaky lie we all get fed: that great things happen through a stroke of luck and a heroic effort. We love to talk about "overnight success" and "eureka moments".

That's rarely the case, though.

The truth behind most big accomplishments is far less magical. (And far more reproducible!)

Borrowing great ideas from hospitality

Danny Meyer's approach to hospitality has not only helped his restaurants succeed, but significantly impacted how the industry treats its staff and customers.

He didn't build his success overnight. It took years, and it didn't all go smoothly. In his book Setting the Table, Meyer lays out his philosophy on making big changes and accomplishing big goals: constant, gentle pressure.

Constant, gentle pressure is very different from the idea of a lucky break or overnight success. Instead, it means becoming a force of nature: progress might seem slow, but the impact of a glacier or a river is to reshape the world. Making a lasting impact requires patience and perseverance.

Constant: consistency wins against pretty much everything else

Only small goals can be accomplished in a single sprint. To do big things, we have to be patient and willing to stick to a plan for weeks, months, or even years — making large-scale change is a process, not a project.

No matter what the field — from marketing to management to parenting to training animals — the prevailing advice is to stay consistent.

Ultimately, you can't expect results if you're not willing to show up and do the work every day.

Gentle: you can't force it — it takes time to change habits and beliefs

Making an impact means the work you do has an effect on other people.

Changing another person's behavior or beliefs can't be forced. In fact, trying to force someone to change is a great way to make sure they don't.

Instead, we need a softer touch. Provide a consistent, clear vision that you can gently nudge people toward. Build a chain of small wins as evidence in support of your broader goal. As people start to get on board, be ready to welcome them to the cause.

Pressure: momentum is hard to build, but hard to stop once it's going

Getting the ball rolling toward a goal is hard. You have to overcome at least inertia, if not active resistance. And once you do start the ball rolling, the progress feels tiny compared to the amount of effort it required.

That's the thing about building momentum: it feels like nothing is happening for a long time, and then — "suddenly" — you're unstoppable.

If you've ever had to push a stuck car, the experience is similar: the car is heavy, and it takes a huge effort to get it to budge at first, but there's a tipping point where you've built enough momentum that the car gets unstuck and it's on its way.

Accomplish big goals through constant, gentle pressure

For a real-world example: I believe better video is the future of reaching developer audiences. I started advocating for creative, scripted video content at Netlify in 2020, and at first I met a lot of skepticism.

Over time, I continued advocating for the idea. I started creating lots of video with my team. Folks started to come around and we were able to get buy-in for bigger projects, and eventually we got approval to bring in a production crew for our first high-polish, scripted video.

This video took several years of building buy-in with Netlify leadership before it finally happened. Credit: Netlify

It took years to get there, but in the end I was able to do something much bigger than I could have done on my own.

Recap: how to apply constant, gentle pressure

  • Constant: continue to show up and do the work consistently — nothing else matters if you're not consistent
  • Gentle: present a clear point of view, stack up incremental success over time, and continuously nudge people toward the goal
  • Pressure: overcome inertia and build momentum — don't get discouraged when it takes time to get the ball rolling

Accomplishing big things takes time. That means patience and perseverance. But if you stick it out, even moonshot dreams are within reach.