Success is in the details

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Reading a lot has become one of my most treasured habits.  Whereas it was once only books and newspapers, today I read books, magazines, blogs, online news, whitepapers, emails, etc.  There is an unbelievable amount of valuable content published today – and a lot of garbage, too.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference!

When I read articles on sales or personal success, a common (and accurate) assertion is that achievements accrue to those who work hard.  Of course, you have to work hard doing appropriate activities, but the difference between smart/focused people who are unsuccessful and smart/focused people who are successful is often effort.

In most industries, there’s another characteristic commonly present in the successful: detail orientation.  People who pay attention to the details pick productive activities on which to work hard.  They also tend to make better decisions because they have more and higher quality information available.  As someone who has experienced modest success (helloooo, narcissism!), an early turning point in my career came when I realized I’d have to work much harder in the workplace than was necessary in school.  What was contained in my head was not nearly as valuable as the work product completed.  The next turning point came when I finally accepted that the details matter.

You see, I don’t naturally gravitate to details.  They get in the way of attractive, sweeping conclusions that are internally consistent but WRONG.  I really enjoy big picture work, thinking about strategy and synthesizing information into a compelling whole.  Details make that work harder, but I’ve focused for years on paying attention to them.   As time has passed, I’ve had this approach reinforced repeatedly.  Many extremely successful people (Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett, etc.) have emphasized focus on the details as the requirement for success.

As our business grows, we consistently encounter those who are well-intentioned but impatient with the details.  It is all about easy or simple and details are mainly a source of aggravation.  In our many years in this business, we’ve found that one of the hallmarks of companies who care about their customers is detail orientation.  This isn’t a foolproof rubric, but a general disregard for details is consistently associated with those for whom customers are only a means to an end.  In our company culture, details really matter.  We aren’t perfect at them, but we do pay attention and are always striving to be better.

Have your experiences been similar?  What stories do you have about how detail orientation was the difference between success and failure?

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