I was walking down the street in San Francisco today and noticed this homeless man on the side of the road with a shopping cart full of knick knacks. Now at first I was a bit grossed out by what I saw in the cart but then on closer inspection, I was fascinated with his attention to detail. Everything had a place, a purpose and was surprisingly organised. It made me think of the circumstances this man faced in daily life and how he actually needed to be quite efficient, disciplined and detailed with his stuff if he wanted to acquire it, keep it, protect it and not waste it.
His eye for detail is his survival skill and so it made me think about how I approach the details in my life. Over the years, my very particular nature has been the butt of many jokes by friends, colleagues and family, but I’ve tended to have the last laugh when ‘things just work’ or the proverbial hits the fan and someone pipes up “oh I’m glad someone thought of that.” Funny that.
Now being a car lover, I appreciate the nitty gritty when it comes to comparing them. For instance, a top of the range Mercedes Benz is often visually distinguished from it’s cheaper, less specified models via subtle details. A slight bulge here, a small badge there, a touch of carbon fibre under there etc. Sure it maybe has a different colour interior or set of wheels that makes it really stand out but I often get attracted to the hidden things that make it ‘better’.
Beyond the obvious changes, the average punter wouldn’t be able to tell the difference from first glances or even possibly second or third. To the aficionados however who purchase these specialty cars, the details stand out like a dog’s…erm…bark.
Sure, some people don’t care about cars as much as I do, but whatever their penchant is, it’s likely they also yearn for buying and appreciating the small details.
Maybe your thing is clothes? or your home? or spelling mistakes? or music? or punctuality? a meal? cleanliness? You may notice poor fashion sense or a dirty plate or someone that chews with their mouth open. I’d even go so far to say that based on this small detail, we’ve all judged others.
Yup, we’ve made (and received) judgement all because of a small detail. Dirty nails? You have no attention to detail. Hands in your pockets? You’ve got something to hide. Kissing with your eyes open? You must be a cheater. Wussy handshake? You’re a pushover. The list goes on despite the fact there could be a million reasons for any of these to occur.
The small details are what really count in an average, general world. It’s why we build intimate relationships and take the time to learn the nuances of each other. It’s why we mess around with our hair in the mornings, decide on an outfit, feel irritated when someone is late, compare products at length and why we get annoyed when the traffic lights are out sync causing a traffic jam.
Details – particularly small details – can be further reaching than just coffee with or without sugar. What if the small details meant the difference between jail or freedom, success and fail or at worst – life or death? The detail you ignored right now might seem benign to you, but what if you knew this small detail you ignored today could became the pivotal reason for change (good or bad) down the track? Eating unhealthy crap every day until you wake up with heart disease is a good example of this.
Big, public decisions are actually quite easy to make because they’re broad and sweeping. It’s the small, fussy decisions that actually decide your fate and ironically dictate the bigger decisions anyway.
You only have to ask Boeing about the real cost of the missing 1 cent washer on a China Airlines 737-800 that crashed because a bolt in the wing became loose and pierced the fuel tank. Who would have thought that in a multi-million dollar plane, it would be a cheap piece of metal you’d find in a hardware store that would bring it all undone?
Embrace your detail oriented eye and don’t be afraid to stop the rollercoaster in order to investigate something that looks out of place. Just because no-one else saw it, doesn’t mean it’s not there and it could just change your life.
You only have ask the homeless guy what he sees on the streets and I bet it’s a lot more than you and me.