The Little Things Matter…A Lot
From humble acts to tiny bits of time, some of the biggest impact comes from things we’d never otherwise thing about
I was watching the surprisingly good Apple TV+ series Ted Lasso tonight, when I was hit with a realization. Upon arrival to coach a failing soccer club in England, coach Ted Lasso-who has only previously coached American Football in the midwest-tries to gain the alliance of the skeptical players.
One tactic he attempts in the beginning is to put out a suggestion box. He asks the players to put in whatever kind of suggestion they’d like, from the texture of the towels to the quality of the vending machine snacks. As he sifts through it with his assistant coach, they find an array of insults, and not much of use-except for one thing. A player notes that the “shower water pressure is rubbish.”
Lasso could have been forgiven for tossing the whole thing aside and focusing on getting real feedback from the team about substantive issues that could fix the team’s dynamic. Instead, he makes it a pirority to quietly have the showers fixed. He doesn’t announce it; he doesn’t go in search of who commented on it. He just takes care of it.
There’s a beautiful scene near the end of the episode where an already vociferous critic of Lasso’s goes to take a post-game shower. He’s visibly moved by the fact that the water pressure is now excellent.
Perhaps this was meant as just a vehicle for showing the tides turning for Lasso. But for me, it’s an illustration of a greater principle that warrants mention again and again: The little things matter.
People say that the devil is in the details. And while he may certainly hang out there from time to time, I don’t think that’s where he lives. For my money, distinction is in the details-as in, attention to detail is what distinguishes the great from the merely acceptable.
But let’s be clear here what I mean by “attention to detail.” I’m not saying that each and every aspect of everything has to be perfect. I’m not even saying that most of it has to be. Many small and insignificant details can be left unaddressed in the course of excellent service. What distinguishes excellent service from just okay service is the care to see which details matter, and which don’t.
And the thing about details is that context changes which of them matter. The shower pressure wouldn’t matter if the team was winning and on track to do great things. But things were falling apart. There had been major upheaval. Everyone was uncomfortable. In that case, getting good water pressure-at long last-made a huge difference.
And if you’re looking to make a change-whether you’re a leader, creator, entrepreneur, or parent-you need to be able to identify what small things will make the difference.
For every failing football team, there’s a minor plumbing problem you can fix, which just might turn the tide. Be willing to spend a little time looking for it. You’ll be thankful you did.