Wednesday, September 15, 2010

To sweat or not to sweat the small stuff

"Cat+Mouse" by Denis Defreyne

It amazes me how advice, seemingly opposite in nature, can all be valid. I think it is because life likes to find a balancing point. Lately I’ve been trying to find that balancing point between the tiny details of perfecting today and the blue sky dreaming of big plans for tomorrow. I’m drawn to two inspiration points in my quest.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
The first inspiration point is a simple little book that has been on my bookshelf for quite some time, “ Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff,” by Richard Carlson. I have a tendency to sweat the small stuff, and by “sweat” I mean obsess over, and this book helps me put things into perspective.

I see myself in the many chapters, especially the one on how quickly negative thinking can spiral out of control. One little thought leads to another, and before you know it, you have a giant snowball of unstoppable worry rolling downhill. Thankfully, I’m getting better at recognizing the snowball forming and redirecting my thoughts away from the negativity spiral.

While it is true that the devil is in the details, I find that if you obsess over every last detail, you can miss out on the truly heavenly things in life.

Sweat the Small Stuff
The flip side of that coin is to focus on the details. Ogilvy ad man Rory Sutherland, argues this point brilliantly in a lively Ted video, "Sweat the small stuff." He relates, in the most charming British accent, that most of society believes that big problems require big solutions. We mistakenly dump money and effort into big fixes with minimal results. Our egos refuse to see a small detail as the answer to a complicated problem.

He tells the success story of an organization eradicating hunger and encouraging inoculations with a couple pennies worth of lentils. “It is so trivial a solution as to seem embarrassing,” he explained.

Apparently important people don’t want to stand up and say their solution to world hunger is lentils. Because institutions, corporate and non-profit, are uncomfortable with “small” solutions, they seek  “big” ideas and often overlook the details that could make the most impact.

The Genius of "And”
So what happens if you “sweat” and “don’t sweat” the details at the same time? I think these two ideas fit together perfectly. It reminds me of “the genius of AND” that Jim Collins refers to in his book, “Good to Great.” Instead of choosing A or B, figure out how to have A and B. By not letting little things overwhelm us, yet seeing the answer in the simplest things, we open up a world of creative solutions.

So are you “sweating” or “not sweating” today?


  1. I resonate with this. I have a tendency to want to know in advance what is the "best" thing to do with my time, when in fact no human gets absolute certainty about this, and if I take my best guess, and actually do something, no matter how small, that is the momentum that will move me forward.

  2. That's a good point Margaret. Jim Collins talks about the flywheel concept in is book. Small changes start to push the flywheel and eventually it starts spinning on its own.

  3. I sweat the small thing and sweat the big things. I tend to do both at the same time, causing a big mess of worry.
    I really need to fix that. The Good to Great book is on my list to read, excited to see that it will have some points I need to read.


Ooh,a comment! How delightful.


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