The devil is in the details!” and “It’s the little things that count!”

There are ton of experts who espouse the need to keep your eyes, mind, and approach focused on the details.  Phrases like “The devil is in the details!” and “It’s the little things that count!” are trumpeted as the answer to virtually everything.


I don’t disagree.  Let me be clear-I…DON’T…DISAGREE.




If you focus solely on the details, you lack the bigger picture that gives them context.  If you have a clear vision of the big things, the details are obvious.  When I was teaching, I really wanted to be a great teacher.  That was the big picture.


Did I care about my students?  Did I prepare carefully for class?  Did I look at student work carefully?  Did I research and explore new ways of helping students?  Did I arrive early for class?  Did I listen when a student had a problem?  Did I watch students play soccer, play in the band, or perform in the school play?


Are you kidding me?   Those things were obvious.  With a clear vision of great teaching, I didn’t focus on the details.  They were the logical steps to great teaching.  That vision allowed me to see the reason for all those details, allowed me to understand instinctively that they mattered, they were necessary, and were the essential ingredients for success. 


When you focus solely on the details, the questions change.  “How much time does it take to prepare for class?”  “How many hours will I have to spend reading student work?”  “What does soccer have to do with the subject I teach?”  “What time do I have to report for school?”  “What time does the contract say I can leave?” 


See what I mean?  The tone changes, and all of the details become “have to”, not “get to”. 


Disney World is one of the cleanest places you’ll find.  Workers for Disney are very well trained, but they don’t have a hundred page manual about keeping the park clean.  You know what they have?  A single expectation:  Disney Parks are clean. 


They don’t have to have a manual covering every single possible thing that might make the park unclean.  They have a single vision that makes all the details obvious. 

It doesn’t mean they don’t have policies and procedures.  I’m sure they have schedules for cleaning bathrooms and emptying trash cans.  It’s just that they figure that stuff out from the vantage point of what produces a clean park, not from a list of “have to’s” for employees.


Next time you’re in the Magic Kingdom, just watch, because you can see it happening.  I was with a senior executive there not long ago, and he had an eagle eye for little bits of trash, from gum wrappers to Mickey Mouse stickers that had been dropped on the ground. Why?  It’s part of the Disney culture, part of the vision, and you see it modeled by virtually every employee, top to bottom.


Do you have a vision that makes the details obvious?  If you don’t, I hope you’ll stop right in your tracks and spend some time figuring out what your “big idea” is.  That will make the details crystal clear and allow you to focus your mind on the big picture in a powerful and productive way.