Every Little Detail

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"I’m not a very detail-oriented person."

I find myself saying this to many people all too often. The funny thing is, that I have been lying. Yesterday, at the C2 MTL event being held in Montreal, Ian Schrager (world famous for Studio 54 and the boutique hotel movement) said this (and I’m paraphrasing here):

"You never know which little detail is going to be important, so they all have to be great."

It’s beautiful and true… isn’t it? I typically think of myself as not being detail-oriented when it comes to things like project management and human resources (both of which are not my forte). If I shift that thinking to my unique abilities (or my core duties at Twist Image), it turns out that I fall into the Schrager camp of being detail oriented (to the point of fanaticism). Take for instance, this blog. I look at every word and grapple with finding a better one. I look at the overall flow to ensure that there is some semblance of cohesion in terms of content flow and how the headlines within each blog post will, hopefully, keep a reader engaged and moving forward. I struggle with headlines (choosing a touch of vagueness over a ball-peen hammer to the face). At the end of the post I ensure that every key word is both linked to and tagged appropriately (one of the things I love most about digital content).

God is in the details.

As I sit here typing this on my MacBook Air, I’m thinking about how this computer (and the operating system) pushes a user to create with it. It’s not the amazingly small and light shape and body, it’s all of the little things: the backlit keyboard, the multi-gestures and the visual flow. It’s all of the tiny little details that create a complete picture. It forces us to stop, think and appreciate how everything comes together to make it one great product.

Anyone can focus on all of the details.

When I go out for a fancy meal, I am constantly reminded of the one time that I went to an expensive steakhouse. The ambiance, food and decor were pristine, but do you want to know what I remember most about the experience? It was the fact that my water was constantly refilled throughout the evening. Not only did I never have to ask, but I never even noticed the wait team refilling my glass. That one small detail of training the wait staff to be invisible is a remarkable detail that most restaurants don’t do… and they don’t even think about it. It’s a grand example of details. Most restaurants will train their team by saying: "always make sure that the customer’s water is refilled." This wait staff was probably told: "always make sure that the customer’s water is refilled, and do this as discreetly as possible… let me show you how."

There’s a mile of difference between those two sentiments.

Here’s the beauty of stressing over the details: anybody can do it. You can do it. You can start doing this now. You probably did it when you first started your business or started working for a company. Then, we all get lazy. We experience a modicum of success and those little details slip and slide away. For the majority of us, we don’t even notice how that focus on detail has disappeared. It’s a crying shame.

Don’t sweat the small stuff? Dumb. Sweat the small stuff… sweat the teeny tiny details.


  1. There are plenty of good companies and good things out there. The difference between good and great is in the details. Its the little details that take something from good to truly amazing.

  2. Detail-oriented individuals make great entrepreneurs because the ability to anticipate trends in the industry depends on their ability to notice small details. It also enables people to become more productive.

  3. I agree when you say that the beauty in sweating the little details is that you (or anyone) can do it. I think the true beauty is that so few people actually do it, that you have an incredible opportunity to stand out by sweating those details. Often, that’s where your competitive advantage will be found.

  4. You have some great points on details. I’ve have often use the mantra “don’t sweat the small stuff” but you’re absolutely right, it is the small stuff that can differentiate something great from something completely awesome! The late Steve Jobs had a passion for the details and proved over and over during his time at apple that no element is too small not to be given his full attention, Jobs was the ultimate micro manager…and so far this approach seems to be working well for Apple.
    As a project manager details are a subject I constantly grapple with, too much focus on details can bog a project down; before you know it an entire morning can been wasted discussing what is probably an insignificant feature. On the other hand figuring out which features are “insignificant” is often an extremely difficult task (hindsight can be 20/20). I find that when managing a team, a good project manager makes sure everyone has the big picture and only discusses/reviews smaller issues and details as they become important. Perhaps we should being calling ourselves Detail Managers instead of Project Managers…

  5. It’s ironic that your post about sweating every last detail, in which you specifically refer to the care and attention you put into your blog, is full of grammatical, vocabulary, and stylistic errors. For instance, one does not “lament” over a headline (a detail-oriented person would know that “lament” means grieve.) I think you meant to say “obsess over headlines.”

  6. Thanks “dave”. I changed it to “struggle” – I hope that works for you. I never said it was perfect. Feel free to let me know about the other errors… I’m happy to update the post. Have a nice day!

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