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Innovating Using The Daffodil Principal

Phil McKinney
Phil McKinney
3 min read
Innovating Using The Daffodil Principal

Want to know the secret to take ideas and make them real innovations? It is what I call the “daffodil principle” which I learned/stole from an article published by Jaroldeen Edwards.

In one of the small mountain communities in the Sierra foothills, there is a church. If you take the time to pull off the road and walk around the side of the church, you will see a hand-lettered sign pointing to the "Daffodil Garden."

A quick walk down the path and you will see the most unbelievable sight. It looked as though someone had taken a basket of daffodil bulbs and tossed them across the mountainside. The flowers were planted in patterns of orange, white, lemon, pink, and saffron. Each different-colored variety was planted as a group across the five acres of flowers in the garden.

I can imagine your first question. Who took the time to create this 5-acre garden?

This was done by just one woman. On the patio of her house is a poster; "Answers to the Questions I Know You Are Asking".

The first answer was, "50,000 bulbs,".The second answer was, "One at a time, by one woman. Two hands, two feet, and very little brain." The third answer was, "Began in 1958."

The Daffodil Principle

There it is, The Daffodil Principle.

For me, the moment I heard this story for the first time was life-changing. I thought of this woman, who, for decades, had planted one bulb at a time to bring her vision to an obscure mountain area. Think about that for a moment. Her planting one bulb at a time, year after year, had changed the world around her. She had created something of incredible beauty, and inspiration.

The principle her daffodil garden taught is one of the greatest principles of success. That is, learning to move toward our goals and desires one step at a time -- often just one baby-step at a time -- and learning to:

  • Love the doing
  • Learning to use the accumulation of time

When we multiply tiny pieces of time with small increments of daily effort, we can change the world.

Why did this principal have such a significant impact on me?

It is that reminder that if we do what needs to be done each day, no matter how small the step, we will make progress towards our goal. When it comes to taking ideas and turning them into innovations, the impact from accumulating effort, no matter how small, can be the difference between “try” and “success”.

Getting Around The Procrastination

I’m not saying that it is easy.  For me, it’s easier to procrastinate. I’m a world-class professional procrastinator. Just ask my wife.

Yet, I’ve had to put in place some learned habits to ensure that what needs to get done - gets done.

Yet each week, I know that the scripts for my radio show will not write themselves. So what do I do? I get up at 5 AM every morning, just as I’m doing at this very moment, and I spend about an hour on the scripts. In any given week, I put in 8 to 10 hours on each script for the one-hour radio show and then I record the show over the weekend. Then repeat it each week for 14 years.

My radio show and podcasts are my examples of the “Daffodil Principal”. Starting in 2005, doing the small daily tasks that lead to each episode of the show. Fifty shows each year builds a season. We are now in our 15th season.

In late 2009, the back catalog of the shows was discovered by my agent, Marc Gerald, who then helped translate that into a book deal. The book then opened the door to have the podcast become a nationally syndicated talk radio show on BizTalk Radio. All of this came about by getting up each morning and spending one-hour a day writing scripts and stories for my podcast and radio show.

While I was successful in applying the Daffodil Principal to my show, there are many ideas that I failed to apply the principal to and as a result, didn’t see them become a reality.

Applying the Daffodil Principal doesn’t require special skill. Just having a goal and then having the commitment and tenacity to do the daily tasks that need to be done, no matter how small the step is.

What if?

The hard question we should ask ourselves …

What if I had taken one of my ideas decades ago and had worked away at it 'one bulb at a time' through all those years?

Just think of what might have been achieved!

So what is stopping you from creating your version of the “daffodil garden”? It is not too late. Start tomorrow.

I’m Phil McKinney and thanks for listening.


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Phil McKinney is an innovator, podcaster, author, and speaker. He is the retired CTO of HP. Phil's book, Beyond The Obvious, shares his expertise and lessons learned on innovation and creativity.


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