From Steve Jobs, to Tim Cook, to Admiral McRaven, the Lesson is Clear – Attention to Detail Makes a World of Difference

Admiral William H. McRaven at the Universtiy of Texas
Admiral William H. McRaven at the Universtiy of Texas

If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.
Admiral William H. McRaven, University of Texas Commencement Address, 2014


We’ve pretty much heard enough on this by now. In a world of shoddy and unpleasant and inefficient design, attention to detail is a big winner. But, in order to be good at it, you have to actually be attentive to detail; every detail; every little tiny detail. You can’t be attentive to the big details without a lot of practice at being attentive to every small detail.

In Admiral McRaven’s speech, he had ten points. The first:

If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”

One detail at a time – that is the secret. The person who makes the bed every day, properly (no, I doubt that I have ever done so even once in my life – not to his standards), is likely to pay attention to a whole lot of other details.

We could make a long list from the life of Steve Jobs. He obsessed over every detail. He insisted that the inner workings of the first Mac “looked right.” Others complained — “who cares what it looks like, as long as it works.” Such disregard to design detail was not in Steve Jobs DNA. This man spent a day at a jelly bean factory looking carefully at colors for the first iMac. He was not going to let any detail slip by him.

And just this morning, we read that Tim Cook, in response to one customer’s email, called in to Apple for himself, listened to the on-hold music, and mandated an upgrade. In the article This Story About How Tim Cook Changed The ‘On Hold’ Music At Apple Shows Why He’s Such A Great CEO, this was part of Apple’s response to the customer:

Much to my surprise a lady from Cupertino called me up the next day, saying she’d received a concerning email from Tim about ugly distortion hold music while on the phone, that Tim had tested this himself and agreed that something had to be done. She assured me that the hold music would be tested to make sure it sounded pleasant on all types of phones and connections.

Now, some of us have grown so used to, so satisfied with inattention to detail that we can hardly see such inattention. So, we’ve got to learn a new skill. Let’s call this the “learn to pay attention to detail” skill. And then, once we spot the miss, the shoddiness, the error, the mistake, the less than “at least close to perfect” slip up, in execution, or in design, we can then get to work to set it right.

Learn to pay attention to detail. If you don’t, the company and the person who does pay attention to detail will leave you behind.

It’s definitely a “pay attention to detail to win” era.



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