Lynn Schackleford played basketball for the UCLA Bruins from 1967-1969. He played for Coach John Wooden during the most successful time period for any men’s college basketball team in history.
Schackleford recalls the importance that Coach Wooden placed on the details. He coached everything that was even remotely related to the game of basketball. For example, before the national championship game in 1967, Wooden walked up to the chalkboard in the locker room and drew a picture. While the players waited for his pregame talk, Wooden meticulously worked on his diagram. He then pointed to the diagram and told each player where he should stand during the singing of the national anthem. He followed this by telling the team how he expected them to conduct themselves after the game. He never mentioned anything about the opponent.
Schackleford later realized what Wooden’s actions before the game were about. Wooden knew that there was nothing else he could tell the team before the game began that would help them win. He had already coached them in practice about the other team’s tendencies and what UCLA was going to do to win. But Wooden knew he could use the time to make sure that they behaved properly before and after the game. The coach was demonstrating that they had already learned everything that was required to win the game. All they needed to do was focus on executing the simple details they had been taught.
There is a phrase that someone will often quote in the middle of implementing a project, “The devil is in the details.” This phrase gets at the essential truth that successfully getting the details right is critical to success in almost every endeavor, no matter how large or small.
One of my clients is focused on providing technology solutions for businesses. As I work with them, I am constantly amazed at the incredible amount of details that must be completed – in order and on time – to successfully implement a new system. One project may require that six-hundred or more individual steps be completed. Success requires that the workers do their individual jobs correctly and in the proper order. The project managers are constantly tracking the completion of each task and making sure that the person doing the next task is ready to do his or her part.
Through the years I have both attended and delivered quite a bit of sales training. Some of this training has been helpful. Some has been entertaining by instructors who are long on style but short on substance.
The ineffective training will emphasize attitude and positive self-talk. It encourages the trainee on the importance of staying motivated and keeping focused on the goal. This type of training is usually enjoyable and fun to attend. And, to be fair, it can help the people in the class improve their attitude and their results to some extent.
But good training also includes a strong focus on the activities and techniques required to achieve success. It breaks sales into a process and teaches a series of steps that are required for sales success. The attendee learns that success in sales results from repeating a series of actions on a daily basis, over and over again. Achieving success is a result of doing the little things correctly every day and doing enough of them to achieve the big goal that has been set.
Mother Teresa once said, “There are no big things. Only little things done with love.” When you can derive pleasure and pride in doing seemingly minor things well, you are on your way to success. If you can show others on the team that you value the little things and encourage them to do little things well, then the whole team will perform at a higher level.
This is true on at the individual level as well. In fact, I think attention to detail is more critical on a personal basis due to the type of things we need to do as individuals to achieve success. For example, as you may know from reading these articles, I trade the stock markets and other markets. Through the years, I have gone through periods of success and frustrating periods of failure and poor results.
In the last few years, I have begun to achieve more frequent and consistent success. This is a result of learning that successful trading requires building a process that I follow when trading. As I have modified my trading to make each trade a series of small actions – each needing to be completed correctly and in order – my success as a trader has improved.
When I go through a down spell, my analysis usually quickly reveals that I have started to inadvertently skip or rush through the steps of the process. Before long, I am trading the big picture without attention to detail. I lose control of the process and of my trades. And, of course, my profitability suffers.
One more anecdote about John Wooden’s coaching at UCLA. His former players note that when the starters scrimmaged against the backups at the end of practice, all the backups would wear jerseys that matched the color of the opponent’s jersey they would be facing in the next game. And the jerseys that the starters wore correlated to the jersey color that UCLA would wear in the next game.
When asked about this process, Wooden was quoted as saying that he did not know if the process of matching practice jersey colors to the opponent’s colors for the next game helped, but he said he thought it made a difference, so he did it.
This is an important point. Even if you are not sure a detail or step in the process will make a difference, it doesn’t hurt to try it. In addition, attention to detail serves another purpose. Focusing on the details in a process provides a psychological edge. It makes you focus on positive activities. This can help you avoid being nervous or distracted by your surroundings. An example of this in basketball is developing a repetitive routine when shooting free throws.
Catch the ball, take a deep breath, dribble the ball three times, catch it, roll the label so you can read it, cock the elbow and the wrist, look at the rim, visualize the ball falling through the hole, release the ball by lofting it to land just over the rim. Swish!!! Over forty years since I last played competitive basketball and I still remember the routine.
If you are frustrated with your results in some area(s) of your life, whether it is work or personal, consider whether or not you can develop a process that will help you with the activity. Make a list of the things required for success. Break each task down into detailed steps. Write the list down. Practice doing the individual tasks correctly and in order. Repeat and repeat and repeat. Do this for a period of time and see if you are able to become more successful. My bet is that you will.