Stop Paying Attention to the Details

Stop Paying Attention: How many times this month have you been sitting in meetings wondering “Really? This is an important usage of our time? Why are we even discussing this? Why can’t someone just make an executive decision and inform the rest of us?” For me it sometimes feels like a weekly occurrence.

Meetings never seem to stick to the agenda (if there is an agenda at all), and we end up focusing on some nit-picky issues. A proposed process change might work for 98% of situations, but for some reason everyone feels the need to explore the 2% in excruciating detail. When discussing a new project, we breeze through setting success criteria metrics and spend more time thinking about rollout timelines. When installing a new IT system, we spend more time discussing placement of buttons and features, and less time on how the system needs to integrate with all our other systems and processes.

The times that most blow my mind are when leaders get fixated on minute details. On what seems to be my recurring nightmare, I always manage to deal with senior leaders who are more fixated on the font style then they are on the content of a presentation. I once had a senior leader demand to review every slide from my 4-day training program, only to have him spend the entire meeting discussing a graph on page #2.

The issue isn’t that people like wasting time on small issues. The issue is our human nature. When the discussion is on relatively minor but easy to grasp issues, we want to be involved in the discussion and provide a personal contribution. We want to add value. On the other hand, when the topic is far more complex, the tendency is to assume that the specialists understand the topic better. Defining success metrics for a project is incredibly difficult, so why not spend time talking about a rollout plan which is infinitely easier to discuss. Understanding the full picture of a 4-day training program is incredibly demanding, so it’s much easier to make changes to the first graph you see.

This bias in our human nature is called Parkinson’s Law of Triviality, and it is almost impossible to overcome.

The best thing you can do is to remind yourself to be more strategic. In meetings, when the topic gets lost in the minutia, try and pull it back to the strategy (of the company, of your department, or even just of your team). You might seem like a broken record, but what would you rather be known as: The person who never shuts up about the strategy or the person who just never shuts up?

Unless it is a strategically critical detail… Ignore it!

Stop Paying Attention to the Details

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