Sweating the small stuff

I appreciate when people are positive and easy going. However, sometimes one can be too laid back and not take care of details when adopting an “It will all work out” attitude. Then stress — at the minimum — ensues, and sometimes chaos and failure.

Recently I worked on a project with Sam, who had a laid back attitude. For 12 years I had organized and managed an event which Sam was now going to run a similar event in a separate location. I had offered to help him set up and manage his event so he it would be easier for him to run it by himself the next time. He welcomed the help.

We’d touched base several times as the event neared, and he was open to my suggestions to ensuring the event would go smoothly. The week before I reminded him that we needed 5 tables and at least a dozen volunteers. He told me both were no problem.

Arriving at the event an hour ahead to help set up, there were 5 volunteers and 3 tables. When I asked if more tables were coming he said he’d make some calls and see if he could get more, but it he couldn’t, it would all work out.

I knew it would not work with 3 tables instead of 5. I’d tried to run this event in the past with fewer than 5 tables and chaos ensued. I could not tell him that all would not work out with only 5, but instead said, “If we can get 2 more tables, it will go so much more smoothly.” Eventually, the other 2 tables appeared.

Can someone be too easy going? Yes. When one does not attend to details, it can make things so much stressful than it needs to be. Could we have made do with fewer tables? If we absolutely had to. But it would have made for a much less successful event.

The challenge is how to finesse the message of the importance of details with someone who’s philosophy is don’t sweat the small stuff. There are times sweating the small stuff is essential. I want a surgeon who sweats the small stuff. I appreciate a car mechanic who sweats the small stuff. I like an editor who sweats the small stuff. I want a product designer who’s figured out all the parts and everything works easily. I want a pilot who checks the small stuff.

Small stuff does not mean it’s unimportant. It’s the details, the minutiae, that can make a huge difference between success and failure.

When you’re working with someone who equates small stuff with unimportant stuff, it’s hard to convince them that the small stuff is worth attending to. They think, “don’t worry.” You know that if you don’t pay attention to the little things, your project will fall apart. It can be frustrating to work with someone who doesn’t have the same focus on detail that you know is important for the project to be successful. You have use your best finesse skills to convince them to alter their laissez-faire approach. It’s not easy and takes patience.

But the alternative — ignore important details and let the project fail — is unacceptable to you.