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Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff?

Sometimes, the rules that work in your personal life don’t apply to business.

By Gary Griffiths, CEO

Great Brands Sweat the Small Stuff

When my kids were growing up, I used to tell them that life was pretty simple. Contrary to what they might learn in libraries full of self-help and personal advice books. “You can live by two simple rules,” I’d tell them:

Rule 1:  Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Rule 2:  It’s all small stuff.

And the corollary that can (and should) be applied to most any situation requiring a decision: “What’s the worst thing that could happen if…?”

To me, life is all about setting priorities, realizing the difference between things you can and cannot control, and having fun. Not sweating the small stuff is not an excuse for being lazy or sloppy or not taking responsibility. Rather, it is simply the realization that 99% of the things we worry about – those things that keep us up at night – are probably not going to kill us.  It’s about priority, understanding who and what in your life really do matter (hint: probably not all 876 Facebook “friends”) and staying focused on that. Catching Pokémon may feel like the most important event in your life today, but it’s a good bet that in a year from now, it won’t have significantly contributed to your personal or career growth. Ditto for how many “likes” you get on your latest Facebook post, or re-tweets of your last tweet.  And if you’re stressing over the recent rash of terrorist attacks in Europe, well, that’s hardly small stuff, but unless you’re in an international anti-terrorism unit, you’re probably not going to change the situation by worrying about it.  Considering the limited capacity we all have as individuals, most of what we deal with day in and day out is small stuff.

But my point is not to pile on in the already overcrowded field of telling people how to live their lives.

Rather, we were having an operations meeting earlier this week, and I was talking about the importance of execution.  I was making the point about how great brands – and great companies – achieved “great” status by doing a million little things right.  And for a moment I was shocked.  Almost confused.  “Did I just say that,” I was thinking?  I mean, here’s the don’t sweat the small stuff guy telling a group of exceptionally bright and attentive people that they needed to focus on details – a million of them.  I looked around to make sure my son, Ryan, wasn’t in the room – he’d think I was a victim of the Body Snatchers.  Well, since nobody pointed out the walking self-contradiction I’d become, we finished the meeting and I returned to my office to see if I could rectify the conflict.  Could I have been wrong – would I have to call my other kids – and tell them to start sweating the details after all?  Perish the thought!

So now I’m on another flight. And having made a note to think about stuff big and small for the next six hours, my thoughts have returned to my dilemma.  And I started thinking about the flight crew, and the Emirates flight that crash-landed last week in Dubai (remarkably without fatalities).  I thought about the landing gear on this plane, and the guy responsible for making sure that the hydraulics control them.   Now, that may be “small stuff” – a little detail – one of a thousand (million?) things that could go wrong on this Boeing 737 – not a new one by the way.  And it occurred to me that for him (and me, and the other 250+ people onboard this plane), ensuring that the hydraulics work is not small stuff.  Nor are the electronics to power the flight deck.  Or the fuel injectors that make sure the jet engines are getting enough to drink.  And so on and so on.  It goes back to priorities.  I don’t want any of those guys worrying about Pokémon – at least not now – and I do want them sweating the details of their job.  In this case, lives are at stake.

And so it is at iPass.  Sure, nobody is going to die if I don’t write a follow-up to the CEO of a new account.  Or if we don’t deliver the best possible support to a customer in need of our help.  Or if we make an error in our financial statements, or don’t thoroughly test our code, resulting in a bug.  There are literally a million things that can go wrong, and each of us has our own set of details – the small stuff perhaps – that may be details, but are critically important.  And even if nobody is going to die if we fail, there sure will be a lot of disappointment, from our shareholders to our customers to our partners even to our employees.  That is an awesome responsibility, and should be treated with an awesome level of respect.

In short, it’s OK not to sweat the small stuff.  Just make sure you know the difference.