"Details matter," Steve Jobs said. "It's worth waiting to get it right."
But many entrepreneurs are big-picture thinkers who have a low tolerance for details. They're very clear about where their visionary journey will take them, but they may neglect the practical, en route details.
To be successful, we require both—strategic thinking and attention to detail. If your big picture thinking trumps your ability to deal with the details, you may be jeopardizing your chances for long-term success. Here are nine tips for not letting a disregard of details trip you up:
Learn To Plan Effectively
A great vision can quickly dissipate in the fog of confusion if you cannot manage the process. Avoid this by learning how to effectively plan all aspects of your project. For example, get a flow charting software program that handles PERT and Gantt charts. It pays to learn how to use these to manage your project details.
Keep Your Eye On Your Cash Flow
Cash flow can cripple your company even when you're profitable. Don't neglect this crucial area of your business. A useful tool to help you track your cash flow is to do a break-even analysis so you know what your margin of safety is. This handy break-even calculator can also help you figure things out.
Don't let your focus on your business cause you to neglect the everyday niceties of dealing with people. Disgruntled employees and vendors can quickly toss a wrench into your operations. No matter how harried your day is, make a point to be courteous with everyone. As American lawyer Henry Clay puts it, “Courtesies of a small and trivial character are the ones which strike deepest in the grateful and appreciating heart.” Grace and civility make relationships run smoothly.
Mind The Little Things
Tom Peters, author of The Little BIG Things: 163 Ways To Pursue Excellence, suggests we pay attention to the "little things" that have enormous impact. This can be as simple as fixing your voice message to be different from that of your competition to using a round table instead of a square table to promote a greater flow of ideas.
As Peters puts it in his Details essay on the same topic, "Nothing, absolutely nothing is irrelevant to individual branding ..." Check all the little things in your company, whether it's the tidiness of the reception desk, the cleanliness of the bathroom or the last client email you sent: Is each one excellent? Do they indicate that you care?
Fine-Tune Your Communication Style
Seeing the vision and communicating it to your stakeholders in a way that they, too, can visualize it is often a challenge for visionary entrepreneurs. Be specific and provide pertinent details to explain your vision. Make an effort to explain your ideas in concrete, not just abstract or theoretical, terms. Give specific examples to substantiate your ideas. Follow a sequential method of imparting information. Make an effort to provide background documentation or handouts to help others grasp what you're talking about.
Raise Your Tolerance For Routine
Big picture thinkers are often impatient with anything that smacks of bureaucracy, and they may disregard routine business procedures. The fact is, grunt work is essential to running a successful business. It's easy to cast aside tried-and- true methods while pursuing the maverick path, but it's also easy to introduce harmful chaos to the process. Learn to be less dismissive of essential business procedures that provide checks and balances. A postmortem that analyzed startup failures shows that a lack of checks and balances due to team deficiencies resulted in failures almost one-third of the time. If this is a challenge for you, partner with someone who can bolster your weakness in this area.
Learn To Love Checklists
Nothing improves your attention to detail like creating checklists for what you do. It will help you to keep track of what you might otherwise miss. In The Checklist Manifesto: How To Get Things Right, Atul Gawande, a New Yorker staff writer and professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, shows how checklists, in the business world and medical professions alike, lead to greater efficiency and success. "Checklists seem able to defend everyone, even the experienced," says Awande, "against failure in many more tasks than we realized. They provide a kind of cognitive net. They catch mental flaws." Get in the habit of creating checklists for your business. It will pay dividends.
Remember People's Names
Brain research shows that there's greater brain activation when we hear our own name in relation to the name of others. Our name is indeed the sweetest sound to our ears. Remembering that it is Helen, not Ellen, or Stephen, not Steven is a small detail that shows you care. Paying attention to your customers' name is another small way to set your business apart.
Make Quality A Non-Negotiable
In our fast-paced zeitgeist, it's easy to cut corners and rush to market, whether it's insufficiently tested products or services. Adopt a quality mindset, and stay with something until you've worked out the kinks, or as Jobs suggested, until you get it right. Quality is a competitive advantage.
Bruna Martinuzzi is the founder of Clarion Enterprises Ltd., and the author of two books, Presenting with Credibility: Practical Tools and Techniques for Effective Presentations and The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow.
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The introduction is the most important part of your essay, and it has one purpose to fulfill above all others: to draw in the reader. Ideally this should all begin right from the attention-grabbing opening sentence. If the introduction can then go on to orient the reader to the focus of the essay, then that can be very helpful. Orientation, however, is not an essential purpose because that can be achieved gradually in the essay. Many people make the mistake of writing a paragraph that explains what they are going to talk about in the rest of the essay. Such a paragraph might include something such as the following: "My journey toward college has been shaped by a variety of experiences, including academic studies, volunteer work, and extracurricular activities." The reader knows that you are going to talk about these things and is most likely muttering to himself, "Get to the point."
If you have a paragraph such as this in your essay, the best move is to delete it. Often your second paragraph, which begins to discuss a specific experience, will work much better as an introduction. Yet you may also find that a later paragraph works even better. In general, you should bring your most compelling experience to the forefront and then structure your essay around that.
The following is a list of possible approaches to the introduction.
Jump Right In
Some people will start with a compelling experience but will insist upon prefacing that experience with a very generic statement such as the following: "I want to go to college to learn and achieve my goals." Often the reason people will write such a statement is that they feel compelled to restate the question in some way. If your essay is answering the question "Why do you want to go to college?" you should be able to demonstrate your reasons without relying on such a bland summary sentence.
Consider this applicant's introduction:
"I can't tell you in which peer group I'd fit best because I'm a social chameleon and am comfortable in most; I will instead describe my own social situation and the various cliques I drift in and out of."
This applicant writes what starts out as a potentially engaging introduction, but the paragraph immediately loses the reader's interest by telling him what the applicant is going to write about.
Now consider the applicant's second paragraph:
"My high school's student body is from a part of town that is much more diverse than the rest of the city, and the city as a whole is more diverse than most of the state. The location of my school, only a few blocks from the University of Oregon, is greatly responsible for the social atmosphere. Whereas the other high schools in town draw mainly from middle-class white suburban families, mine sits in the division between the poor west university neighborhood and the affluent east university one. East university is hilly and forested with quiet residential streets and peaceful, large houses. A few blocks west, using the university as the divider, the houses become small and seedy. On the west side of my school there are many dirty apartments; crime is high and social status is low."
Here, the writer engages the reader by providing a vivid description of the locale of his home and school. He probably felt he needed the introductory paragraph so the reader would not be confused by his second paragraph. However, by adding such a short and bland introduction, he has decreased the effectiveness of his personal statement. It is sometimes unnecessary to establish context right away. Let your story flow, engaging the reader and gradually relating setting and context.
The advice to jump right in also applies to anecdotes. One effective way to grab the reader's attention is to describe the action of your story.
Consider this applicant's introduction:
"'Breez in and breez out. Clear yor mind by zinking of somezing plasant.' For five minutes, all of us found ourselves sitting cross-legged on the floor with a soft, sleepy look on our faces as we subconsciously nodded to the soothing rhythmic voice of our French teacher. Our heads were still half wafting in the delicious swirls of dreamland, barely dwelling in the bittersweet shock of reality. Time whizzed by swiftly and we were forced to tend to the grueling task of untangling our aching frames, stiffened from prolonged straining positions."
The above introduction does a much better job of engaging the reader. Dialogue can be a very effective way to win over the reader's attention. This applicant lets the reader know the setting—his French class—even though he never explicitly states the location of the story. He paints a vivid picture in the reader's mind while incorporating the element of mystery, as the reader wonders what further action will occur, as well as what the point of this anecdote will ultimately be.
Show Your Originality
If you can make yourself stand out right from the first sentence, then you will have contributed a great deal to your case for admission. You should not just throw out a random fact about yourself. However, if your essay is going to emphasize a unique aspect of your life, then by all means that should come up right away.
This applicant starts with:
"When I was four years old I decided to challenge conventional notions of the human limit by flying through a glass window. The impetus was Superman, whose exploits on television had induced my experiment. Nine stitches and thirteen years later, while I no longer attempt to be stronger than steel or faster than a speeding bullet, I still find myself testing my limits, mental and physical."
This applicant takes a similar approach:
"I am an addict. I tell people I could stop anytime, but deep inside, I know I am lying. I need to listen to music, to write music, to play music every day. I can't go a whole day without, at the very least, humming or whistling the tunes that crowd my head. I sing myself hoarse each morning in the shower, and playing the trumpet leaves a red mouthpiece-shaped badge of courage on my lips all day. I suspect that if someone were to look at my blood under a microscope, they would see, between the platelets and t-cells, little black musical notes coursing through my body."
Both writers have succeeded in grabbing our attention and revealing something unique about their personalities, which they will go on to explain in further detail.
A Concrete Image
Starting with a concrete image helps the reader to grasp your point more immediately. For example, this applicant begins to describe her favorite places to think:
"While eating Cheerios, my eyes wandered from the yellow giant cardboard box, to the white plastered ceiling, with shades of dawn in muted colors, and back to my bowl of cereal."
This is probably not a particular episode, since the applicant frequently uses the kitchen table as a thoughtful refuge. Yet she offers a vivid description with concrete details, and so we can picture her sitting at her kitchen table, letting her mind drift into pensive thought.
The Element of Mystery
There are many ways to engage your reader, but the elements of mystery and surprise are perhaps the most effective. With admissions officers pouring over as many as fifty essays in a day, they begin to scan applicant statements, stopping to read only those that are written extremely well and are out of the ordinary. There is perhaps no better way to get your readers to finish reading your personal statement than to make them guess what you are writing about through the element of mystery.
Consider this applicant's introduction:
"I had a mental image of them standing there, wearing ragged clothes, hot and depressed, looking upon us as intruders in their world. They would sneer at our audacity. We would invade their territory only to take pictures and observe them like tourists."
Though the applicant provides precise details that help form a concrete picture in the mind of the reader, he makes sure to keep from relating other vital information that will establish context until the second paragraph:
"We climbed out of the van and faced eleven men assembled in the shade. My mental image was confirmed. My class, consisting of twelve primarily white, middle-class students, felt out of place. Our Politics of Food curriculum at Governor's School, a summer environmental program, included an interview with migrant workers. We were at a farm worker labor camp in southern New Jersey, but judging from the rural landscape, it may as well have been Iowa. I felt like a trespasser."
State a Problem
By stating a problem, you create instant curiosity because the reader wants to see how you will address the issue. This applicant relates how an issue of international prominence became personalized for him and his family:
"I have often wondered whether the United States has an obligation to get involved in the internal conflicts of other countries. When does the power to intervene become an obligation to act? I gained some insight into this dilemma when a small part of the Bosnian war spilled into my home last year."
You do not need to limit yourself to far-reaching global issues. You could state a general problem common to the lives of most people and then go on to personalize it for yourself, relating how it affects you and what you are doing or will do to address it. There are many possibilities here, but what unites them is the element of drama, and you should use that to your advantage in creating a strong introduction.
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