Pay Attention To The Little Things

A contemporary composer described an inquiry he received from an agency as follows: “They told me they wanted a piece of music that is inspiring, universal, optimistic, futuristic, sentimental, emotional – just a whole list of adjectives – and then at the bottom they said it must be 3 ¼ seconds long.” To the composer, the inquiry was so humorous and presented such an amazing thought that he felt compelled to respond. He said, “To actually try to make a little piece of music like this is like making a tiny little jewel.”
He created 84 selections and said, “I got completely into this world of tiny, tiny little pieces of music. I was so sensitive to microseconds at the end of this that it really broke a logjam in my usual work. Then when I finished and went back to working with songs about three minutes long, it seemed like oceans of time.” One of his short submissions was accepted – and produced as the Windows 95 sound that became so familiar to computer users worldwide.
In today’s society, we often get so caught up in the big things that we lose sight of the beauty, challenge and reward of accomplishing the small things. The story of Louis Minella is a good example. After years of working with department stores to maximize the attractiveness of windows and floor displays, he retired and looked for another career. Minella opened a copy and mailing shop, a huge change from being in charge of managers in an international organization to personally being hands-on in everything. The day-to-day attention to little details led him to do work that previously he told others to do. In his words, ‘I’m in reality now.”
But he claims he takes great joy from the daily challenges, like handling customer complaints, fixing leaking ink in the postage meter machine or determining how to copy a 700-page document. He said, “It’s a different ball game here, but tremendously satisfying to learn how to take care of small details.”
All organizations can learn from the Windows 95 composer and from Minella’s adventure into taking care of the little things. The fact is, the biggest problems in business often result from overlooking the small details. Emotionally and logically, customers gain insight into how a company is able to handle big things by the way it handles little things. I wrote an earlier column about how on automobile trips taken by my wife and me, the station where we stop to get gas depends to a large degree on how clean the restrooms are. That column was titled “Clean Restrooms Sell Gas.”
If you want to know what it’s like for a customer to contact your organization, listen in offsite to someone calling your place of business. Will you be put on hold, disconnected, spoken to rudely or insulted? Will you be told you have an unsolvable problem? Or, will it be a great experience? Business leaders can learn much about the little details when they mystery-shop at their businesses.
When I formed a mystery-shopping team for one client several years ago, the survey showed the organization was high in technical knowledge but low in customer relations. Thus, my seminar to them spotlighted specific examples without singling out or embarrassing individuals in front of anyone. This company is known today as having great human relations skills and taking care of customers. With ongoing technical training to accompany the ongoing “soft skills” training, it is a company to emulate.
To some leaders, all of this information is interesting, but merits no action – until they find some small details have led to some big problems in their own organizations. Then what until that time had been only a provocative theory becomes something vital to act on.
Carl Mays, author of over a dozen books and speaker at over 3,000 events, can be contacted at 865-436-7478 or His books, including A Strategy For Winning, People of Passion, Anatomy Of A Leader, Are We Communicating Yet? and Winning Thoughts, are available in stores, on and

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