Thursday, September 15, 2011

Paying Attention to the Little Things

As I nurse an Achilles tendon injury, I am somewhat amused (painfully) at how a small part of the body that many of us don’t give much thought to could slow down someone who stands 6’3”.

It reminds me of how common this is in Life – how we often don’t pay attention to the little things in our personal or professional lives until we see the result of not paying attention; whether it results in degraded health or injury, a failed relationship, a dying business entity or a collapsing country.

As a strategy guy, the little things that many shrug off as not being important enough to worry about are the things I need to understand before writing them off as inconsequential.


Because when things fail or don’t reach their potential, many times this failure has its roots in that which we didn’t feel was important at the time.  Those little important pieces of awareness were lost amidst the noise of the things we thought were important, we were mistaken about the truths of cause and effect or we just couldn’t get over our own ego.

This is why, after a failure has occurred in a person, a company, a physical object or a country, it is usually very easy to discover the causes.  That which was ignored (accidentally or intentionally) naturally and logically progressed into something that produced failure.

When the analysis is complete and the reasons are obvious, we write them off by saying “How could we have known?”, “Who knew then that this was important?” or my favorite worthless cliché, “Hindsight is 20/20”.  Oftentimes as a result of this analysis, we learn how to do things better.  Sometimes we actually do things better.  Many times we do not.

When I look at the current challenges in the economy and on Capitol Hill, the political noise that attracts the media like a moth to a flame intrigues and worries me.

The media likes to hype up all the bickering, the gloom and doom messages, the complexity, etc. as news.

I see it differently.

For the many people I have been blessed to work with over the years, there is a percentage of people who, in order to hide their incompetence, loved to hide behind noise.

You could pick them out quite easily – the ones who didn’t know how to make a decision or the ones who were driving a private agenda that was different than their publicly stated one.  In order to disguise incompetence or motive, they would create a lot of noise through excessive posturing, intimidation, pointless meetings, useless information sharing, finger-pointing and fear mongering.

As long as they were able to keep up this noise, no one noticed that they were not competent enough for their role.  People were too busy trying to survive the fire storm and so the incompetent survived. In fact, some who have mastered this technique actually find a way to become the hero when they put out the fire that they started and no one remembers who actually started it in the first place.  Everyone is too relieved that the danger has passed.

And while everyone around them gets sucked into the maelstrom of confusion, the fire starter steps back, acting angry, confused or concerned while letting it explode around them, possibly thinking ‘Whew – that was close – almost got discovered there”.

So the next time you hear a lot of noise about the concerns on Wall St., the problems on Capitol Hill, the worries over wars around the world and problems in the nation in general, forget about what is being said and how it is being presented.

Listen carefully for what is not being said and then ask yourself “Why?”.  Remember that the people who want to portray themselves as the hero may also be responsible for having created the challenges in the first place and must be held accountable as a result.

Once you have gotten past the noise, you are on your way to becoming more aware of the real issues and the real solutions that are needed.

This is not a call for panic.  In fact, it is a call to increase one’s awareness and knowledge.  In an ever-changing world of ever-increasing complexity, knowledge is power.

Pay attention to the little things.  In the end they, like an Achilles tendon, are the things that will either hobble you or enable you to make greater strides in life …. for you, your family, your company, your country and the world

In service and servanthood,


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