Sweat the details … literally to 63 degrees!

Over the years I have commented often about how great organizations, great companies, and great brands do the big things well and the small things even better. This idea links directly back to a very memorable experience of my youth.

The summer after my mom died, my dear Aunt Lorraine (see the early blog essay “Aunt Lorraine’s Law”) took my sister Alice and I for a vacation to newly opened Disney World in Orlando Florida. It had been a very hard year, and the prospect of flying on a plane, staying in a hotel, AND visiting Disney World seemed too good to be true. As a boy of 13, I was in awe of the entire Disney experience. From the wild ride of “Space Mountain”, the super cool Monorail, the unusual “Wedway People Mover”, and the now defunct 20,000 leagues under the sea ride, I loved it all. After the sadness and gloom of the previous few months, Disney World seemed like paradise. One of those days, Alice, Aunt Lorraine and I were walking in the Magic Kingdom somewhere and I remember looking down and seeing a man hole cover. Innocent enough, I realized that rather than being the usual “generic” man hole cover one would see elsewhere, this one (and all of them inside Disney World) had an image of Mickey Mouse cast in the metal at the center of the cover. Even then I was blown away by this unique and unexpected detail and thought to myself, if Disney had thought of the man whole covers, they must have thought of everything!

That memory came back to me this week in a poignant moment. We have been working closely with my old friend Todd (a total rascal and a marvelous marketer whom I have known for years)on a major presentation for weeks and we worked very hard to have everything assembled for not only a successful experience, but an exceptional experience! The presentation was finalized, product samples assembled and merchandised beautifully, marketing materials hung around the room, everything seemed set! The morning of the meeting, I came into the conference room early (of course) and realized that the meeting room was warm, way too warm. We were going to have a fairly large group of people in the room and I knew that if it felt warm early in the day, it would only get worse. Warm room, sleepy audience, lack of concentration …… to say the least, not good! In an amazing flashback, I was transported back in time (the early 90’s) to a large auditorium at Coke’s headquarters in Atlanta. I had arrived early to a large marketing meeting at that time and found the then Chairman and CEO (Roberto Gouizueta) talking in a hushed but earnest tone with the meeting planning folks. I overheard his comments that the room was too warm, that hundreds of young marketers were arriving soon and he wanted the room “fresh”, and he specifically said that “fresh” meant 63 degrees! 63 degrees, really??? That precise? That specific temperature? From the CEO? Really? Well the meeting planning folks jumped into gear, the AC immediately was adjusted, and to say the least no one “dozed” in the meeting from the room being too warm!

Well here I was twenty years later, realizing that the meeting room was too warm and I immediately said out loud, “can we get this room to 63 degrees?” The hosts thought I was crazy but quickly a building maintenance person was found, and though he was a bit taken pack by the precision of my request, he said that the computer could program the system to the ½ degree. I reiterated 63 as the target and he got to work. Quickly the room cooled, and we had a very successful meeting over the next few hours. At the end of the day, as the clients were packing their bags, one of their senior folks commented offhandedly that the room was so cold; it must be the temperature that we recommend at Bolthouse Farms for our carrots. I quipped that while 38 degrees was best for carrots, we found that 63 degrees was the best for meetings. He was stunned that not only did I had an opinion about the room’s temperature, he realized that we had not let that to chance; that we had worked to “sweat the details” even to that level.

Whatever role, function or organization that you are part of, think about this lesson. The” little things” add up to the” big things” and if we blow off the “little things,” the “big things” just may not happen at all! Remember the manhole cover or the 63 degrees, or any other image from your experience to remind you to sweat the details. Try not to get lazy, convincing yourself that it’s “no one will care” or that “it’s somebody else’s job” to worry about the details. It would have been easier and cheaper for Disney to buy standard manhole covers; they didn’t! It would have been understandable for Roberto Gouizueta to think that someone else should worry about the auditorium’s temperature; he didn’t! Work hard to remember that it matters, it really matters, to sweat the details in order to be great!