Saturday, February 11, 2012

Axiom 17: Pay Attention to Detail

"I can never bring you to realize the importance of sleeves, the suggestiveness of thumb-nails, or the great issues that may hang from a boot-lace." -Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"Success is the sum of details." -Harvey S. Firestone

Car Salesman or Lawyer?

Back in my college days me and my friend James use to meet up often and drink a few beers for happy hour. We use to go to a bar that drew a wide variety of both blue collar and white collar workers. Being that James and I were both public relations majors at the time we were learning how to quickly assess every situation and use the small outward details to help understand the bigger picture. One game that grew out of this that we played at the bar was, "car salesman or lawyer?" 

There were always a few guys at the bar dressed in collared shirts and ties that had just got off of work. Because of the bar's location these guys usually either came from a nearby car dealership or law firm. On the surface car salesmen and lawyers look the same unless you spot the subtle differences in the details. We use to try to figure out what they did for a living from the little details that we could see. After we made our final guesses we would have the bartender go over and casually ask them where they worked. After awhile we got pretty good at this game.

So how did I make my guesses? I would look at the brand of their tie, what kind of watch they had, how old they were (were they old enough to have gone through law school?), what kind of shoes they had (and how worn out or dusty they were), how they paid for their meal, what topics I could overhear them talking about, how dirty or wrinkled their clothes were, what they were eating, what they were drinking, what other items did they bring with them to the bar (newspaper, briefcase, etc.), and so on.

The one thing that I learned from this game is that the little details can end up painting the bigger picture. Learning how to read people from afar can be helpful, but as the next story illustrates the little details you exhibit can affect how other people make up their mind about you too.

How salting your dinner could cost you a job offer.

My friend James knew a business owner that had a very peculiar way of hiring people. He would take prospective employees to dinner at a restaurant that he was sure they had never eaten at. Then he would watch them very closely when they got their food. If they salted their food before they took the first bite he would not hire them.

His reasoning was that people who salted their food before they tried it lacked an inherent ability to think things through properly. How would they know that the food needed salt if they had never been to that restaurant and tasted the food? On a micro-scale their actions were demonstrating an inability to take the proper actions in the proper order, and that could end up being a problem on a bigger scale in a business environment.

If you agree with business owner's hiring process or not one thing is certain: You may be judged in life based on your smallest actions and reactions. Take the time to step back and look at things on a micro-scale. You'll be amazed at how different the world looks, and you might just learn something new.