Paying Attention To Details – Why It Matters

Years ago I recall reading a book called ‘Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff – And Its All Small Stuff’ by Richard Carlson. I was on a flight from Singapore to Chennai. It was a short easy to read book and I finished it in no time. As I reflected on its message about how everything we do and encounter is insignificant I felt a deep sense of relaxation and fell asleep. A rarity for me when I fly.

It was relaxing to be absolved of a sense of responsibility about trying to overreach yourself when you are told to not sweat the small stuff a.k.a details.

When you add the perspective of time to everything we do it is true that our actions become increasingly insignificant. On the day of an important exam for example everything we do to prepare for it matters, whether it is to get rested or cram in one more page.  But how does it matter 10 years from then when our work experience would weigh in more on our job prospects than even the outcome of the exam let alone its preparation.

Our sphere of influence is small because the impact of our actions is small. To raise the impact of our actions so that they build on each other and make a significant impact on our life over time instead of fading into obscurity like in the above example we need to take more effective actions.

While the premise of books like ‘Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff…’ can help in certain areas such as managing our emotional overreaction I would argue against treating everything we do as small stuff that needs to be glossed over and ignored.

If you are going to get cut up by the surgeon would you not have reason to worry whether she had a good sleep the night before?

Details matter.

There is an interesting real world application of Einstein’s theory of relativity. A corollary of the Theory of Relativity is that time runs faster as we go farther away from earth. Not by much but by thousands of milliseconds. GPS systems communicate with satellites to accurately map their positions. As a result the GPS systems need to keep this theory in mind when they sync up their clocks with that of the satellites. Even a discrepancy of a billionth of a second between the clocks will lead to a discrepancy of a couple of 100 feet!

Details matter.

A colleague of mine once saved the company more than USD 240000 annually in recurring costs. All he did was correct a software glitch that placed the decimal point one extra digit to the right!
You may think that attention to details may not apply if you become a manager or that the higher you go on the corporate ladder the more involved you should be with strategy. Listen to what Ram Charan a noted management consultant had to say about this in his book “Execution – The Discipline of Getting Things Done”. This book demolishes the myth of the leader standing on the mountain top and concerning himself only with the vision and other exciting things while leaving the details to others. It says that successful leaders involve themselves fully with the details.

Steve Jobs was famously detailed oriented. In his biography on Steve, Walter Isaacson reveals how Steve fussed about even the layout of desktop icons on the iMacs or the wall color at the Apple outlets.

Or consider the case of Starbucks, the wildly popular coffee chain. In his book “Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a time” Howard Schultz the CEO writes: “Every Starbucks store is carefully designed to enhance the quality of everything the customers see, touch, hear, smell or taste…”. He goes on to describe how they banned smoking before it became the norm and how they don’t sell certain foods. The reason, it interferes with the aroma.  Even the background music is carefully selected so that the hiss of the espresso machine and the swish of the metal scoop shoveling out fresh beans can be heard on and on and on.

Details matter!

One of my earliest recollections of a successful experience using details took place when I changed jobs 1 year out of college. Not only was I moving from one industry to another but also to a far flung town. I had only 2 days to make the actual move. I had to deal with my utility bills, settle accounts with the landlord, arrange for transport, look for new accommodation, etc. That was when I decided to write down every detail of my actual move from hour to hour.
My actual move turned out to be a walk in the park.

Pay attention to details and you may be called anal or paranoid by others. Ignore them. Details are boring, painful and appear needless. Ignore the feelings. Paying attention to details indicates a habit of thoroughness and preparation, hallmarks of professionals in any career including the creative world. It is not the end all and be all for sure but a foundational step in any venture.

So take a deep breath and then take a deep dive … into the world of details.

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