Our society tends to focus on the big ideas. We love them, me included. But since big ideas have no precedent, no path to follow, the challenge is they require uncommon action; little details that need to be figured out beforehand.
So, everyone likes talking about big ideas. But a very small number of people are actually motivated to figure out the little things that need to be right for that big idea to be delivered.
Great ideas require greater execution
Take the Apollo mission, which took us to the Moon and back. Everyone remembers the landing; the outcome. Most no one talks about all the other little things that had to happen for a landing to be possible; not to mention the return back to Earth.
Gemini demonstrated spacewalks, how to dock two spacecraft, and the challenges of living in orbit for long periods of time. The flights tested space food, life support, and fuel cells. Together they rank among the most exciting seat-of-the-pants missions ever undertaken.
“Every flight was a new endeavor, every flight was a challenge,” says Cernan. “I thought my flight was a failure but it turns out we learned a great deal that allowed us to move forward and eventually be very successful at walking on the Moon.”
Imagine if none of those things had been figured out? No Moon landing.
It’s the little things that kill…
The Gemini program was instrumental in getting us to the Moon and back. All innovative projects have their own version of Gemini, a middle part that has leaps and valleys, a road that has never been traveled before.
And like the little details that needed to be figured out though pure experimentation beforehand, so it is with every type of unknown endeavor that characterizes innovation. In my opinion, the greatest lessons learned from innovative projects are the ones that are never told: the trials and tribulations that preceded success.
Start with the truth
One of the best questions we can ask ourselves to begin thinking about potential pitfalls we may encounter along the way as well as mission critical stuff that needs to happen, the most important question in strategy, is: What has to be true for this specific outcome to happen?
Innovation is messy, and getting ones head around every single thing is a daunting task. So the question above really helps you focus on the critical things that need to be true, the doors that need to be opened for everything else to fall into place.
Here’s another question to help you focus on what matters: what are the little things that will kill us if we miss them?
Innovation is a better future, delivered. The path to that future is rarely known, it is messy and requires being attentive. There’s a balance between experimenting and really hunkering down to focus on the stuff the little things that matter. One slip up and everything comes crashing down; it’s happened to all of us.
Great teams, the ones that are relentless about execution, focus on getting the littlest details right because they understand that not doing so surely means catastrophic failure.
Bottom line: We tend to fall in love with stories of success, but success only looks simple in retrospect. It’s the stuff that no one talks about that made success possible. It’s the little things that make a difference, but they’ll also kill us if we miss them.