make it pretty, make it exceptional, make it extraordinary

“Hand me that drill again, I want to make this pretty.”

Yesterday, I got my first filling. The dentist had already drilled the cavity and was about to do the filling, but something had caught his eye. As he took the drill from his assistant, he said to me, “This is just for me, no one will ever see it.” Then he corrected the minor detail he’d seen.

At that moment, I knew he was my favorite dentist and I’d happily recommend him to others. He is a craftsman. Someone who cares enough to do the job right, even when he’s the only one who will know the difference.

Would I have known if he didn’t “make it pretty”? Nope. Isn’t good enough good enough? Why waste time on details that don’t matter? Hold on there, I never said the details don’t matter, only that I wouldn’t know the difference.

What if he hadn’t drilled more? What if he had said, “Yeah, I think that’s good enough. No one will ever see it.”

I read an article about Steve Jobs a few months back that talked about how he obsessed with making the inside of the computer as simple and elegant as the outside. When you worry about the things no one will ever see, is it any surprise that what they do see is exceptional?

Being the craftsman, approaching it from a mastery standard, making the unseen as elegant as the seen often takes little to no more time. And you never have to worry about having to go back in and do it again. You never have to worry if it’s “good enough”. In fact, it takes a lot more time and energy to do something to the bare minimum standard and have to keep reworking it to get it good enough than to just do it right from the very start.

This applies to all jobs. A couple years back I bought a new-ish car from a dealer and ended up in a knock-down-drag-out negotiation over whether or not the dealer would provide us with a second key. If they are willing to cut corners and kill the customer experience over a key, where else are they cutting corners that I can’t see?

There’s a great lesson here: they eventually gave in and gave us a key, but it took so much effort that I’m still bitter two years later and will never, ever, not even at gunpoint buy from them again. Like the dentist, it would have taken no more effort to do it right (less even) for the sake of doing it right than to do it poorly to see how much they can get away with. They could have made it a great experience and would have made more money off of goodwill, referrals, and the opportunity to sell me another car. But they chose not to. And it still cost them the key.

It really comes down to taking pride in your work, all of your work. People usually won’t notice when something is done above and beyond right, but they will notice when it isn’t. Would you notice that all the staples in a document packet were aligned the same? No, but you would notice if the documents had been stapled and re-stapled, if the ends of the staples snag your hands, or if the document had so many holes in the corner it looked like it had been mauled by an angry badger. Silly example, but very true.

What’s this look like at your job? How quickly do you return calls? How thorough and well written are your emails? How prepared are you for meetings? Do you treat your customers like you would want to be treated? Do you smile and say hello to everyone? Do you help out those who aren’t in a position to return the favor? Do you try to be exceptional or do you try to get by?

The people and companies that get this are the ones that really stand out. Those that don’t tend to be the ones wondering why they don’t get ahead.

Little things matter. Good enough isn’t.

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4 comments

  1. So true. Spending lots of money on flashy ads and cool “stuff” is pointless if “little” things like a friendly smile, cleanliness and attention to detail are overlooked. I’ll be happy to give up the spa amenities in my hotel room in exchange for a friendly, personalized greeting, a spotless room and internet that worked.

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    1. Laurie, great points (and as one who used to travel a lot, I can really relate to your example). All the amenities, flash, and extras are fantastic BUT, they are meaningless until we get the basics right. True for businesses, true for individuals.

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  2. Broc,

    I love this story with your dentist!

    And regarding Steve Jobs, I believe it was last weekend that 60 Minutes replayed their story about him that included a lot of comments from Walter Isaacson who wrote a book about him.

    One story that was mentioned was about Steve Jobs’ Dad painting the fence at their house. He taught Steve to make the inside of the fence look as good as the outside of the fence even though most other people would only see the outside of the fence. But you would see the inside of the fence.

    Perhaps this explains why Steve Jobs obsessed over the inside of computers, too.

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