Building Community Through Better Relationships

You Cannot Save Them All, So Save The One That Makes A Difference

A modern fable tells of a young boy walking along the sea shore. He is tossing starfish that had washed onto the beach back into the water. An old man approaches the boy and tells him that there are hundreds of starfish on the beach and you are not really making a difference. The boy tosses another starfish into the surf and replies that he made a difference to that one.

The moral of the story is that we can each make a small difference. But, in the world of professionals responsible for making large contributions, this message is dead wrong! Yes, the boy made a difference to a number of individual starfish. However, the problem remains. Ultimately, leaders are responsible for using resources at their disposal to solve large problems.

Too often, people solve problems by doing what feels good and avoids pain. Particularly in community service environments, the emphasis defaults to demonstrating good intentions. In reality, the objective needs to be to eliminate some social wrong. In fact, effectiveness dictates that you do not save one, but rather you save the one that can make a difference for the many. Toss the starfish into the ocean that can keep other starfish from washing up on the shore in the first place.

Find the Root
With regards to most societal or business problems, correcting the issue resides in changing behavior. For example, a fundamental function or process has been poorly constructed, or has failed in achieving its desired effect. Throwing more resources at a solution that has not worked feeds the disease of bureaucracy. The behavior that initially created the problem has to be identified so that the root cause can be addressed. Effective leadership involves deploying resources and people who are equipped to address the root cause in order to replicate solutions. This practice will most likely require experimentation. Nevertheless, the purpose is not to get the perfect answer. The objective is to get a workable solution that scales.

Think Bigger
Scale is critical. Saving one troubled youth does not impact a community. Creating a collection of leaders purposefully focused on improving young lives will facilitate change and deliver results. Unfortunately, success requires recognizing that a byproduct of any revolutionary improvement involves losses. However, the ancillary benefit of accepting some losses is that it frees innovation to be more aggressive. Thinking bigger requires solving the problem such that it impacts the greatest number of possible constituents. For egomaniacs that need to gratify themselves by singularly helping each individual affected by the problem, you have your selfish reward. For leaders who want to truly make a difference, engage others to lead the charge, maximize their capacity and then, share the credit.

Be Bold
In efforts to save as many as possible, be bold in your ambition. Upon addressing a problem in one community, seek available resources to enable serving multiple communities. A bold leader accepts the challenge of feeding the hungry. But, to save, feed, and serve them, more than one good-hearted person, no matter how good her heart, is necessary. Successful results demand leveraging like-minded souls to contribute. You may not be able to save them all. But, start by saving the ones who are equally inspired and motivated to save others. Then, allow them to own their individual contribution toward maximizing the impact on the outcome.

Obviously, the hungry, abused, uneducated, and oppressed are not starfish. A lost child is irreplaceable. However, honest leadership realizes that some irreplaceable children will be lost regardless. If we are going to save people with needs, then processes need to be in place to save as many as possible by leveraging maximum resources for their benefit. Helping them one at a time, makes one individual person feel good. Leaders don’t help, they solve. Endure the pain, recruit and empower support, share the credit. It’s nice when a compassionate boy saves a starfish. The world improves significantly when the starfish population is sustained by intelligent and scalable efforts that require vision, execution, and lots of resources focused on a big solution.

By Glenn W Hunter
Principal of Hunter and Beyond


October 13, 2014 - Posted by | Better Community, Better World | , , , ,


  1. That’s exactly what I’m trying to do in my conmunity, but sometimes it gets rough. Grace and Mercy when you one person or a family that says, “Thank You” and pays it forward, makes me keep on pushing to Community Excellence in my community and beyond.

    Comment by Phyllis D Kinnard | October 14, 2014 | Reply

    • Thanks for the comment, Phyllis. It takes bold, no-nonsense people like you to make change. Your community & family is better because of it.

      Comment by Glenn W Hunter | October 14, 2014 | Reply

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