Every Little bit Helps: The Game of Inches

Marvin Liao
3 min readJul 27, 2022

I recently started volunteering at the SF-Marin Food Bank to help with packing. It’s full of volunteers who show up for a few hours to pack bags of food to give to those who need it. A wonderful community effort that has become one of the highlights of my week when I am in San Francisco. One of the things I’ve noticed is the difference in the wide range of volunteers, old people, young people, middle aged people, all working together to get something done. When there are many volunteers we get it done pretty fast. With less, it’s a longer process and exemplifies the saying “Many Hands make short work.”

The point is that every little bit of effort and help matters. This is why I love startup life, because in an early stage startup every little dollar helps. Every little bit of energy and effort really matters. There is no room for prima donnas and talk without action. Frauds who talk a big game but don’t deliver get found out quickly. This is all in comparison to large corporations where you can hide in the large size of the budgets and organization and also in the complexity and opacity.

In life this is the same thing. As long as you move forward even in small ways, it’s all that matters. The process of “Aggregation of Marginal Gains” I’ve quoted many times.

There is a famous scene from the football movie “Any Given Sunday”, where the coach Al Pacino is trying to rally his team at halftime seen right here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f1yWSePMqsk

“You find out life’s this game of inches. So is football. Because in either game, life or football, the margin for error is so small — I mean one-half a step too late, or too early, and you don’t quite make it. One-half second too slow, too fast, you don’t quite catch it.

The inches we need are everywhere around us.

They’re in every break of the game, every minute, every second.

On this team, we fight for that inch. On this team, we tear ourselves and everyone else around us to pieces for that inch. We claw with our fingernails for that inch, because we know when we add up all those inches that’s gonna make the fuckin’ difference between winning and losing! Between living and dying’!

I’ll tell you this: In any fight, it’s the guy who’s willing to die who’s gonna win that inch. And I know if I’m gonna have any life anymore, it’s because I’m still willing to fight and die for that inch. Because that’s what living is! The six inches in front of your face!!”

This scene was shown at a big Yahoo! Annual Sales Conference event over twelve years ago and it still gives me the chills. I watch this whenever I face inevitable setbacks or the hard times that come up in life. So what’s the point besides it being an inspiring and amazing piece of drama?

I think it relates to so many aspects of business and our life. Yes, we should want to make big moves and have lots of massive progress. But sometimes, or most of the time, it’s just about moving a few little inches forward. Every little bit you do actually matters, even if it does not feel like it at the moment. If you sustain this over a long period of time, you may be pleasantly surprised about where you end up.



Marvin Liao

Ever curious: Tsundoku, Reader, Aspiring Shokunin, World traveller, Investor & Tech/Media exec interested in almost everything! www.marvinliao.com