Master of the Obvious

Stanford professor Bob Sutton has a good article about attention to detail and success.

To return to my colleague and friend Jeff Pfeffer, this pattern is consistent with what we discovered as we were writing Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense. Great leaders and firms often "win" by doing mundane things well. Think of Southwest Airline's Chairman and Founder's Herb Kelleher saying "Airplanes don't make any money when they are sitting on the ground." Or of George Zimmer, CEO and Founder of The Men's Wearhouse, building a business model around the notion that most of his customers would rather not actually be in his stores buying suits.

In other words, success comes from doing the work no one wants to do.

  • I believe that Kelleher did say “Airplanes don’t make any money when they are sitting on the ground” but that saying was not the catalyst for Southwest’s incredible fast turn of their airplanes. So the inference is misleading IMHO.

  • See these thoughts on strategy and execution from Field Marshal Lord Wavell. He is talking about generalship, but the points are equally relevant to business.

  • I believe that not only companies, but individuals get their start from doing unattrative work. On my blog, I have an article on “When Clients Change Suppliers”, that goes into this a bit.