The Deception of Detail

People usually take pride in saying that they are ‘not good with the detail’ but they really ‘get the big picture’. The uninitiated managers suffer from the misguided belief that it is somehow admirable to admit to being a ‘big picture’ thinker. They believe of course that the big picture is more conceptual, more strategic and more important. The Brotherhood of Management knows better.

There are only a handful of people in any organisation who need to get the big picture – and you are almost certainly not one of them. Brothers should never admit to being better at the detail than the conceptual, for it is necessary that not all workers pay attention to the detail. It suits the Brotherhood if workers are concerned with the big picture items because it is in the detail where we can lay the landmines that trip up the unsuspecting.

Nothing could be further from the truth that you should not sweat the small stuff. It is all about the small stuff. The devil is truly in the detail and if you study the big success and failures of people’s careers, it is always because they somehow got the detail right. Some may have simply been lucky, but for the majority – the millions and millions – the hundreds of millions managers out there are paid to sweat the small stuff.

A contract is made invalid because of one small omission, a plant grinds to a halt because a small screw got loose and a computer program does not work because there might be one line of code out of several million that is an error. In a negotiation room it is the contraction of a pupil that signals defeat. Attention to detail is about being particular – in the literal sense of the word.

The world, and all the businesses therein tick on detail. That is the nature of a system. Wheels within wheels. And every manager has a little patch to mind and it is his or her job to take care of the detail. It is boring and it does not sound terribly strategic or glamorous; so we will indulge by saying you must be able to see the big picture – and obviously it does not hurt – but that only applies while you still manage the detail. If you get your priorities wrong, you do so at your own peril.

Don’t believe your own hype and don’t get fooled by the false promise of a job that sounds strategic. Pay attention to the detail; that is what will trip you up. If things go wrong with the big picture, there will be plenty of factors outside of your control that you can blame; but if you make a mistake with the detail you only have yourself to blame. This may account for the reason why people are loath to concern themselves with the detail. But admission to the Brotherhood, and its rewards, only come to those who are prepared to take the responsibility for the detail.

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Cycle of Success

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