Question: I keep hearing talk about building on a strong foundation. I know this applies to a business and to life. Can you give some examples of what this means?
Answer: Building on a strong foundation has become a bit of a cliché in recent years. Business writers use it. Politicians use it. Ministers use it. The premise is sound but it needs to be called something different. I’m going to rename the concept, “Are the Restrooms Clean?”
I can tell you how well any business is being run by the condition of its restrooms. Some of the fanciest national restaurant chains spend millions in marketing and advertising trying to entice us with mouthwatering food. And yet, their restrooms are filthy. What does this say about their operation in general? To me it says that little things don’t matter – it’s all flash and glitz. Where else are they cutting corners? Do I even want to peek into their kitchen? Think about the last time you were in a dirty restroom. What overall opinion did you form about the business?
The little things do matter. As entrepreneurs and with life in general it’s easy to get caught up in the big picture and sometimes neglect the seemingly trivial. After all, what’s more important – understand the cost of goods sold or a sparkling urinal? But here’s the thing. The little things are the foundational elements on which success is built. Are we on time when attending meetings or are we tardy? Are we gracious and well-mannered or are we arrogant and a bit narcissistic? Do we always do the right thing even when no one is looking and no one will ever know?
One of the best illustrations of how a little thing can have catastrophic consequences is the story of the space shuttle Challenger. On January 28, 1986, the Challenger lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida with seven astronauts aboard. Just 73 seconds into the flight the shuttle broke apart and exploded resulting in the loss of the entire crew. How did this tragedy occur? An O-ring seal failed on the right solid rocket booster allowing hot gas to escape and causing the horrifying separation of various structural components. When a business fails or when we as individuals fail, it often starts with something small.
I’ve written in the past about being strategic and not getting bogged down in straightening paperclips. And that advice still holds true. But it’s just as true that we can’t ignore the small details in our businesses and our personal lives. There must be a balance between big stuff and little stuff. The key is being aware enough to regularly take stock and make sure that the little things aren’t going to bite us.
Metaphorically speaking, if our restrooms are spotless there’s a good chance that we’re tending properly to the small things upon which we build our businesses and our lives.
This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.