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Contemporary comic book writer and graphic novelist Joshua Dysart writes: “People, we’re always reaching for these big things…you know? Big ideas…big moments…big lives. And all the while the little things we’re ignoring are undoing us.”

I was reading a Maureen Dowd op-ed a couple of years ago in the NY Times. It was enjoyably full of her scathing, caustic observations, on this occasion commenting on a recent “Get Motivated!” seminar at the Verizon Center in Washington. As usual, Dowd was funny and more than a little mean. And right on.

My general feeling about these massive feel-good inspirational gatherings is that they’re a bunch of hooey. Not wrong in their stated insights, just shallow and quite temporary in their efficacy. Kind of like a business pep rally. Certainly not my cup of tea.

However, amidst Ms. Dowd’s cynical reportage on talks by the likes of Terry Bradshaw, Rudy Giuliani, Steve Forbes, Dan Rather and Rick Belluzo, 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 (or simply other people on your elevator who sometimes turn out to be the CEO). He also avers the value of small details. For instance, Powell reports writing thank you notes on personalized 4-by-6 inch cards. “I write with a fountain pen. Never a Sharpie. Never a ball point pen. A fountain pen.” Dowd reports.

It seems to me Colin Powell is quite on to a real truth here. It’s little things that set the tone for successful 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.

To expand on General Powell’s concern for the small things, I always recommend that any missive or serious communication one sends 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 cutting-edge entrepreneurs enamored of the wonders of Tweeting, Friending, Linking-in, etc. 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. It unspokenly says exactly the manner you would represent a client and effectively serve her.

Additionally, the very fact that the personal letter is increasingly rare gives special notice to those who use it. It is not a dinosaur inefficiency. It is a notable differentiator that, in the long-term, makes a branding statement, as well as creating a subrosa gravitas and a sense of business seriousness.

Or, as John Donne says in his poem To Sir Henry(1663) “Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls.” Thank you, John Donne.

4 Responses to “Little Things, Dinosaurs, and Entrepreneurial Sales”
  1. Sandra Atenasio says:

    Enjoyed the blog today. thanks for reminding us all of the little things in life. I am sure I told you before that I had the pleasure of dining with Colin Powell a few years ago. One of his favorite comments and advice to others is “be nice to everyone on the way up, because they will be the ones you see on the way down”. I never greet a customer without a smile and almost always send a hand written note of thanks where appropriate. I really believe that it makes a true difference in the way you are perceived. I have also implemented a hand written engraved note policy in my business for clients who have sent referrals or placed sizable orders. It takes only a few minutes and makes a lasting impression. People have an innate desire to be noticed and addressed by their name, think “CHEERS, where everyone knows your name”. I was taught from an early age, to be polite to everyone from the garbage collector to the president, one never knows when you might meet again!

  2. tim askew says:

    Amen, Sister Sandy. I particularly enjoyed your account of your dinner with Colin Powell. Automatic and habitual courtesy seems obvious and simple, but is amazing how many people ignore it. Thanks very much for the comment.


  3. Carol Kinsey Goman says:


  4. tim askew says:

    Thanks for your encouragement, Carol. You are a muse.

    Warm regards,


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