I have always believed in the business efficacy of teeny, tiny things. While I have my five and ten year plans, I find little details and small daily accomplishments create dependable, steady growth in my business. These smallest of things are also where I create the trope of meaning for my everyday life. I find that both meaning and true success come out of the daily march of quotidian choices and actions, not from ecstatic moments, grandiose strategy, or epic deeds.
I am a great lover of Tolstoy. (Incidentally, in this vacation beach book season, may I recommend War and Peace. Except for a lot of unpronounceable Russian names, it is a page-burning, bodice-ripping, military melodrama of a narrative novel, not the intimidating tome it is often made out to be.) At the end of War and Peace, Tolstoy’s hero, Pierre, discards what he calls his “mental telescope” through which he has been seeing his world, to rather embrace “the ever-changing, eternally great, unfathomable, and infinite life of everyday existence”–a sort of one-day-at-a-time mantra.
In one of his later essays, Tolstoy tells the tale of Russian painter Karl Bryullov correcting one of his students’ sketches. The student exclaims, “Why, you only changed it a tiny bit!” Bryullov responds, “Art begins where that ‘tiny bit’ begins.” Tolstoy states: “That saying is strikingly true not only of art but of all life. One may say that true life begins where the ‘tiny bit’ begins, where the infinitesimally small alterations of consciousness happen.”
So with business.
I remember attending a seminar at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C. several years ago called “Get Motivated!” My general feeling about these sorts of massive, feel-good, inspirational gatherings is that they are a bunch of hooey. Not wrong in the stated insights, but just shallow and quite temporary in their efficacy. Kinda like a business pep rally. Talks by folks like Terry Bradshaw, Dan Rather, Steve Forbes, Rudy Giuliani, etc. Not my cup of tea.
However, I was caught by some business advice shared by General Colin Powell. His advice? Simply to be nice and particularly to be nice to the little people like the folks who clean your office and park your car. He also avers the value of small details. For instance, Powell reports writing thank you notes on personalized 4-by-6 inch card. “I write with a fountain pen. Never a Sharpie. Never a ball point pen. A fountain pen.”
It seems to me that Colin Powell is quite on to a real truth here. It’s the little things that set the tone for entrepreneurship–little considerations, little details. Focusing on the small decencies creates an ambiance of service and real carefulness in business dealings. It becomes reflected in the larger actions of a company. It creates culture.
To expand on General Powell’s concern for the small things, I always recommend to my clients at Corporate Rain International that any missive or serious communication they send out go on high-quality stationary and be sent by snail mail, ideally with a commemorative stamp. This is sometimes cause for eye-rolling impatience by some of my cutting-edge clients enamored of the wonders of tweeting, friending, and linking-in. But there is a method to my antediluvian madness. Yes, it takes extra time and money to communicate in such qualitative ways, but the very effort communicates care and valuation on a subconscious level. There is a sensual subconscious statement that is communicated by the very feel of high-quality stationary. It creates an aura of seriousness, reflecting both respect for your client and the general business process. Without words it says exactly the manner you would represent a client and effectively serve.
Educator and author Lauren Roedy Vaughn writes the following: “Little things, little things, are much more, more important than big things. Big things hit you in the face with their bigness and obscure the little, more important things that really define a life…” Thank you, Lauren.