Superman is my favorite comic book character. Don’t ask me why. There really is no rhyme or reason to these things. If you were to push me, I’d say that it is Superman’s commitment to “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.” Not quite sure what “American Way” entails, except I think it includes a deep love of liberty and freedom as well as a strong sense of fair play and an abiding respect for the dignity of fellow human beings. Which sort of leaves out water boarding, but that is a whole other issue.

I thought it was cool the way Superman stopped bank robberies and muggings and other dastardly deeds. It was only when I grew up that I realized the greatest wrongs of the world are often perpetuated by quiet evil, by stunning levels of corruption and brutally oppressive regimes, by casual cruelty and systemic exploitation. Superman did not seem to have a knack for fighting that kind of evil, the kind that relies on the repression of the human spirit.

For all his x-ray vision, Superman could not see into the hearts and minds of men to discern their true intent or true nature. Being invulnerable to bullets is nice, but stopping street crime does not address the bigger issues of the day, the true threats to “Truth and Justice.”

In essence, Superman was just puttering around the edges, majoring in minor things, addressing symptoms not underlying causes.

This was my youthful introduction to the complexities of the world, the difficulties of crafting lasting solutions, and the seductiveness of flashy, splashy resolutions that make headlines but are ultimately ineffective.

For a 12 year old, it was a shattering revelation. Superman was wasting his talents! I resolved then that I would only go after the “big guys.” I did not know such concepts as highest leverage point or BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) then, but it was the starting point of a life-long commitment to “never sacrifice the gift,” to always look for that point where the greatest effectiveness meets highest efficiency, where “flow” begins and upward cycles take on a life of their own.

Good intentions, while a terrific place to begin, are rarely sufficient. In addition to trying hard, we must try smart. We must have the commitment to forgo quick-fix, feel-good solutions and have the discipline to dig deep until we reach the root of the issue.

We so want to help, we so want to solve the problem, that we often grab the first solution we see, generally the one we have at hand or think we are good at, and apply it regardless of its efficacy. Classic “to he who has a hammer, everything is a nail” behavior. Often we end up just melting the tip of the iceberg and wondering why, for all our valiant efforts and good intentions, more iceberg keeps appearing.

Is there an area of your life where you are wasting your talents, your skills, your efforts? Majoring in minor things? Focusing on symptoms and not searching for true causes? Slashing away at the leaves while ignoring the roots?

Do you have it in you to discipline yourself to step back, go to the balcony and evaluate the true, long-term effectiveness of your heroic efforts? Begin anew with the leverage of your new insights? Then to repeat the process over and over at ever-higher levels of insight and effectiveness?

This is a classic from the NSC Blog archive, originally posted August 15, 2008.