Sweating The Small Stuff

A couple weeks ago, I was having lunch with my old pal, Tony Bombacino. T-Bo, as I’ve been calling him for years before it became an Internet meme, is a wise guy. No, not a made man -- just a dude with wisdom.

Every few months, T-Bo and I get together to catch up on life and times and searchery rhymes. These days, we’re both sporting multiple little ones at home, so we usually have to get our ketchup in over lunch. One of the many things I love about Tony -- besides the fact that he thinks you can order steak frites and, as long as you also get a salad, it’s a healthy meal -- is that he’s the human embodiment of CliffsNotes for business books. I sure don’t know how he finds time to read, but thankfully he’s able to remember book theses better than rap lyrics.



Over lunch, one of the books T-Bo recommended -- and subsequently summarized so now I don’t need to actually read -- is “What Got You Here Won't Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful” by Marshall Goldsmith. Per Tony, the premise is that there’s a difference between what you’re successful because of and what you’re successful in spite of. In other words, correlation is not causation -- and the key to success is figuring out what you need to keep doing, versus what you need to start doing and/or stop doing.

These wise words marinated like Tony’s rib eye balsamic reduction -- and, by the end of the meal, we were feeling full and ready to make changes. T-Bo was ready to hit the gym again. And I was ready to quit obsessing over all the little things that make a big difference. Alas, neither of our resolutions made it past dessert.

It’s the Little Things that Kill

As anyone on my team will attest, I believe the devil is in the details. I’ve earned the nickname “third eye” for how carefully I review every deliverable that crosses my desk. Sitting at lunch with Tony, though, I began to wonder if being a minutiae maniac belonged on the “keep doing” or “stop doing” list. Was my constant compulsiveness an indicator for success or an inhibitor? Would this semi-charmed life be better off with a third eye blind? 

Indeed, there’s a fine line between quality assurance and micromanagement -- and, like beauty, it’s usually in the eye of the beholder. Much has been made about Steve Jobs’ attention to detail and the wake that he left behind in his endless pursuit of perfection. Some folks found his passion inspiring. Others found it overbearing. For everyone who ever worked for Jobs, the exact sentiment probably depended on the minute.

One of my favorite Steve stories is from Vic Gundotra about getting a call on the weekend regarding an issue with the gradient of the second “o” in the Google logo on the iPhone. As Vic plussed, “It was a lesson I'll never forget. CEOs should care about details. Even shades of yellow. On a Sunday.”

Another great Jobs anecdote comes from Walter Isaacson’s biography and the obsession Steve had over which parts were used in Apple devices and how they were installed. In most cases, Apple customers would never even see these parts but, to Jobs, just knowing himself that they were in there was enough to make his skin crawl -- unless, of course, the parts were perfect.

Marshall Goldmsith would have had a field day in an executive coaching session with Steve Jobs. I’d love to hear Goldsmith opine on whether Apple became the most valuable company of all-timebecause of Job’s compulsive detail orientation or in spite of it. One thing I’m sure of: Goldsmith would have had Jobs spend some time working through chapters in his book like, “Apologizing,” “Listening,” and “Thanking.”

For better or worse, there will never be another Steve Jobs. But if you want a future so bright, you gotta care about shades.

Making the Grade-ient

In SEM, the littlest things can have the biggest impact on results. URL structure. Match types. Negatives. Ad copy. Title tags. And the list goes on. Sure, the Pareto principle applies, with 80% of the results coming from 20% of the variables but the way that the most successful search marketers become even more successful is by nailing the 80% and then getting after, and staying after, the 20%. 

If you’re a newbie in the search biz, here are 20 mistakes you’ll want to avoid making. And here are 20 more. But those are mostly SEM-related tactics. Don’t overlook the importance of proper business etiquette. Looking back on my “Little Things” post from 2008, with the exception of BlackBerry being the default mobile device, these best practices still ring true.

So, as we enter “Back to School” season and get back to life, back to reality, let’s get back to basics when it comes to striving for success. Sometimes what’s old is new again  -- and that’s stuff worth sweating.

1 comment about "Sweating The Small Stuff".
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  1. alexander edlund from Caesars Entertainment Inc, August 23, 2012 at 2:54 p.m.

    Great article Aaron. I haven't met a successful SEM who didn't have an eye for the details.

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