032 What we can learn about small things from geckos

Close-up of a gecko’s foot, of which the tiny hairs (setae) help them stick! Zoom in further and you’ll find the spatulas. I’ll explain everything, just read on. Credits: Wikipedia

We can learn a really great deal of understanding of the power of compounding and stacking small behaviors and habits—the large magnitudes of consequences and the differences made by small and negligible thoughts and objects in our everyday life—from geckos!
Here’s how:

First, a little bit of science. But I promise, it’ll be fun.
You probably may have wondered at some point in your life, “how do geckos climb walls and stick to just almost any surface?”
Well, turns out even Aristotle, who is said to be like the smartest person in his times from 384–322 BC was intrigued by geckos. Through his observations, he noted mystifyingly on the gecko’s ability: “It can run up and down a tree in any way, even with the head downward.”

Unfortunately, Aristotle couldn’t find the answer, but almost 2000 years later, modern scientists did, and we now think we know what makes a gecko stick and cling to surfaces so easily.

So there’s certainly something cool with the gecko’s ability to stick (and walk by unsticking in milliseconds!) on completely vertical surfaces and it’s talent to defy gravity (by “sticking”, again)
Here’s how they do it, in the simplest possible words and why they teach us such an important lesson on “the small things”:

When they zoomed in to get a better view of a gecko’s toe pad, scientists found that the gecko has about half a million tiny hairs called “setae”. And zooming in even further, each of those hairs is covered by hundreds of tiny bristle like structures which they like to call “spatulas”. And it’s those tiny little bristles which let a gecko’s foot and toes make contact with the surface it’s climbing on. This happens on the nanometer scale (billionths of a meter!)

Close-up of a gecko’s foot credits: It’s Okay To Be Smart
Zoom in further, these are the setae credits: It’s Okay To Be Smart
Even more further, these are the spatulas credits: It’s Okay To Be Smart


And a gecko can climb because the atoms and molecules in it’s: feet—>toes —> setae —> spatulas, directly interact with those of the surface they’re climbing on. That leads to a special kind of force—van der Waal’s force. These are very weak forces and quickly vanish at longer distances between interacting molecules (the reason why geckos can easily un-stick from the surface they’re on to walk further ahead). And so due to a di-polar nature of both the gecko’s foot and that of the surface, when the two surfaces come into contact, the positive side of the gecko’s foot’s atom gets attracted to the negative side of the wall’s atom. And they attract each other just like magnets of the North and South ends!
Van der Waal’s forces are really weak and they only work on the nanometer scale, and so, again just like magnets, when the gecko’s toe bristles change their angles, the weak van der Waal’s force disappears and the gecko can “un-stick” and run or walk ahead!

Now, the real deal:
I wanted to bring this whole gecko thing up because I found it fascinating and because there’s something we all can benefit from by using “the gecko: small things make large differences theory”. Okay, that’s just something I made up but anyway, here’s the real deal.
The gecko doesn’t climb (relatively) large vertical walls by some kind of magic (even though you could perceive it like that in a way) that just happens somehow and his legs stick to the wall. As we learned, the gecko’s foot doesn’t stick, neither does it’s toe, nor does the tiny microscopic hairs on it’s toes, but the extra microscopic tiny bristles which stem from the hairs (spatulas) which due to some physical interactions stick and unstick to the wall. A gecko itself is such a tiny species, the size of a humans foot at max. But, the tiny little bristles of the tiny hairs of the gecko are even so miniscule relative to the gecko and from it’s point-of-view. If, by any not so probable chance, one day geckos get intelligent enough to understand why they stick to walls (while it’s maybe impossible for most other species to do so), even the geckos may be surprised by discovering the fact that the smallest parts of their body help them to “do their thing” and stick.

Back in real life too, we don’t seem to comprehend that the smallest things make the biggest differences. We always chase big achievements, big opportunities, big events, big work, big goals and countless other big things and wait for them to do their thing. But we don’t realize that the smaller everyday stuff can have such a great impact in our lives, just like the geckos’ tiny, microscopic, nanometer-scaled toe-bristles which help it’s entire body to climb up walls and be cool creatures.

The tiny little things you do everyday, they compound just like compound interest in a bank and they all stack up continuously and consistently as you do those smaller things and those are the ones which lead to big results. No one becomes a professional or a rich and/or famous guy over-night, in anything and everything, it’s the smaller things, habits and everyday behaviors the person carries out that has led to him becoming the professional he is today.

Footnotes and bibliography
I learned about geckos from a YouTube video of It’s Okay To Be Smart, check it out here: The Lizard That Uses Nanotechnology to Walk Upside Down

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