Call Me “Trim Tab”

Call Me "Trim Tab"

Next time you catch yourself saying “I have to”, take a moment to consider what the consequences would be if you didn’t. What are 5 positive outcomes you could see for yourself by not doing your “have to”? What 5 negative penalties do you foresee happening if you let your “have to” slide? What alternate actions could you easily – and quite happily – take to resolve each of these penalties?

The most common way we lose sight of the options and opportunities open to us moment by moment is to order ourselves around with phrases like “I have to, “I must” and “I should”. If this strikes you as naïve, consider the observations holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl documented in his book Man’s Search for Meaning. Locked away in such notorious concentration camps as Auschwitz and Dachau concentration, Frankl came to the realization that a prisoner’s ability to survive depends less upon the conditions under which he lives than the freedom of choice he perceives, even when faced with the most severe deprivation, suffering and abuse imaginable.

In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey urges each of us to recognize our ability to determine what happens in our lives. “Our behaviour” Covey echoes Frankl, “is a function of our decisions, not our conditions.” To illustrate how we can be proactive, Covey borrows the metaphor of the trim tab from engineer/social visionary Buckminster Fuller:

Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Elizabeth again: The whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there’s a tiny thing on the edge of the rudder called a trim tab. It’s a miniature rudder. Just moving that little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. It takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the individual can be a trim tab. Society thinks it’s going right by you, that it’s left you altogether. But if you’re doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole ship of state is going to turn around. So I said, “Call me Trim Tab.”
 – R. Buckminster FullerPlayboy (February 1972)


Whatever it is that you are in the process of doing, consider the trim tab: that small, effortless point in the process that plays a determining influence on the final outcome of the project. Resist resigning yourself to doing what you “have to”, “must” or “should” do. Find ways to expand your options and create the impact you want.