The Unseen Details Make the Difference

Posted by:

How committed are you to the quality of your work?

If you go to the British Museum (and you really should, you know), you will see the Elgin Marbles. These are a collection of ancient Greek marble sculptures that used to grace the Parthenon. (And by the way, contrary to popular belief, the “g” in “Elgin” is pronounced like the “g” in “goat,” not “gin.” Mmmm, gin.) These are magnificent statues, but what’s really amazing is what you see when you walk behind them. The backs of the statues, you see, are nearly as detailed as the fronts.

“So what,” you say, in that irritating tone that I’ve asked you not to use. “What’s the big deal about that?” The big deal is this:

These statues originally sat 40 feet above the ground. The backs of the statues were never meant to be seen—by anybody. And yet the artists put nearly as much time, effort, and artistry into the backs as they did the fronts. They didn’t have to—nobody would have noticed (at least, not for 2,000 years). Still, these ancient sculptors had enough pride in their work to do it right, even when nobody would know the difference.

Do you have that kind of pride in your work? Are you committed to giving it your all, even in the places nobody can see? Former congressman J. C. Watts once said, “Character is doing what’s right when nobody’s looking.” The fact that it was a congressman who said this only diminishes it slightly. The principle still holds. And it’s what sets the best businesses—hopefully yours—apart from the rest.

Next week I’ll be speaking at a convention of Harley-Davidson dealers in Dallas. Now, a Harley is a beautiful bike—that’s apparent at first sight. What’s not apparent at first sight is the meticulous detail that goes into each motorcycle: the hand-finished gas tanks that are molded, not stamped, to eliminate seams; the carefully hidden cables and electronics; the clearcoat that’s more than twice as thick as the competition. Harley doesn’t have to go to this trouble—most of the competition doesn’t. And those nameless artists didn’t have to add details to the back of their statues. But that’s what pride in your work is all about. It’s what makes a Harley a Harley, and the Elgin Marbles the Elgin Marbles.

I’ve listened to a lot of Beatles outtakes—the takes that the Fab Four didn’t think were good enough to put on a record. To be honest, some of those outtakes sound pretty good to me, and a lesser band might have said, “Good enough, let’s call it a day.” And you know what? The record would have been fine. But it wouldn’t have been the Beatles. Because, to the Beatles, the magic happened when Paul said, “I’d like to give the bass part another go,” or John said, “I know I can sing it better.”

So, again, how committed are you to the quality of your work? Are you a “good enough, let’s call it a day” person? Or are you the kind of person who cares enough—who has enough pride in your work—to make it truly great.

Even if no one will see it.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
  Related Posts