Monday, July 10, 2017

When the Little Things Become the Big Things

It's the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen. - John Wooden

A mountain is composed of tiny grains of earth. The ocean is made up of tiny drops of water. Even so, life is but an endless series of little details, actions, speeches, and thoughts. And the consequences whether good or bad of even the least of them are far-reaching. - Swami Sivananda

I drive my teams crazy regarding the small details of our projects.  While many self-described experts tell you not to worry about the small things, I have found over the years that the small things add up to the big things and can prove to be catastrophic in potential and impact if ignored.  Sometimes the item believed to be small, insignificant or statistically unlikely becomes the thing with the greatest impact as I mused about in Statistics: The Mathematical Theory of Ignorance.

I recently declined an opportunity to work with a not-for-profit because they ignored the importance of the small things, creating documents with legal errors, leaving board members with little or no liability coverage should something go awry and allowing board members to sign documents that they knew contained legal issues.  The board members didn’t seem to have an issue with this either so they had no interest in pushing back, demanding higher standards.

In my polite declining of the opportunity to work with them, they cited the mistakes as minor things falling through the cracks.

The problem is that they are not minor at all.  Creating documents with legal mistakes in them and having board members who have no issue signing them, knowing that there are legal mistakes and loopholes in them, is a recipe for a disaster down the road.

And when the disaster comes, everyone will act surprised as is often the case.

Unfortunately in such situations, the innocent as well as the guilty are hurt and that is the greatest crime of all.

The little things do matter.

Take this example.

This is an airport at an undisclosed location – the photo was taken a few days ago.

Note the excellent security, including cameras, multiple keypads, barbed wire – this entry point is secure within reasonable definition.

Go 100 yards down the street and you come across a second gate.  Everything looks good (again within reasonable definition of security).

Go another 100 yards down the street and you find this – no gate, no fence, no signs – nothing.

Some people will argue that there are likely hidden cameras in place to prevent miscreants from performing an evil deed.  I would argue that if this were the case, you wouldn’t need the excellent security at the other gates either – just a camera and hope.

But if anything should happen at this airport, everyone will act surprised.

And hope is never a strategy.

The Bottom Line

The little things do matter.

The art and science of knowing what is a little thing with great potential versus the little thing that is trivial in potential is worthy of learning.

Otherwise, when you claim that something fell through the cracks or you were caught by surprise as the little droplet of water developed into an overwhelming tsunami, you will have no one else to blame.

They won’t believe you anyway, especially when the details are revealed.

Do you allow the little things to go unnoticed or ignored in terms of potential?

Are you willing to take a chance that they are not as small and insignificant as you think?

Are you sure?

In service and servanthood,


Small things ....

When I wrote this, I was reminded of these "small" experiences in airport security, noted in my musing Terror: Vulnerability Through Decent Acts.

No comments:

Post a Comment