14. Why I’d have a detail manager if I ran a big company

Today, I’m at Disney, and to say that I am a bit envious of people working there every day is something of an understatement. There are palm trees. The offices are nice. And there’s a greater-than-fictional-life-size Yoda. How cool is that?

Yet even for all the coolness of Disney, there’s something that has struck me during my day here. It’s the same thing that struck me while visiting Bell Labs in Ireland a few years ago. And while flying across the Atlantic a week ago.

These places needs a detail manager.

They need someone to ask questions that no one else is asking. And who has the ear of those who can make changes.

As someone who runs a small company, I understand that it’s hard to afford someone who just walks around and pokes things, when you’re dying to afford a person who can do accounting/graphics/cleaning/development instead.

But for a big company? I’d totally go for that.

Because it’s obvious that stuff gets put into place, and then no one changes it because those who deal with it on a regular basis either don’t have the power to change it, or the interest in doing so. Sometimes both.

The Disney elevators have huge No Smoking signs. That’s nice, but I’m quite sure they could do without them, since there’s an obvious no smoking policy inside in place – a fact I am aware of even though I can’t see any signs from where I’m currently sitting.

On the flight here it was even worse. In the ceiling above every seat is a small area that displays important information. Is the seatbelt sign on, or can you move around? Is the wifi operational? And is smoking forbidden?

The answer to the two first questions is not always the same. The answer to the one about smoking? It’s ALWAYS the same. Smoking is forbidden. It’s said in the pre-flight security briefing as well. The sign makes exactly zero sense. I’m sure it made sense once, when there were smoking flights, non-smoking flights and times for both smoking and not smoking on planes. Now? Not so much.

But nobody says “Hey, why don’t we remove that useless sign and use the (premium and limited) space for something else?” Because it’s nobody’s job. And it’s easier just to do nothing. Keep the status quo intact. After all, it’s not your job, right?

When I was part of the organiser team for the Nordic larp conference Knudepunkt in 2007, we (unsurprisingly) had a James Bond theme. But not only did we have a James Bond theme, we also had people who were in charge of the details.

Their job was to do cool stuff that wasn’t necessary, but which made a difference. Printing and hanging up signs on the rooms with James Bond themed names (so room 311 wasn’t only room 311, but also the Aston Martin room). Stuff like that. Small, but cool. Someone called them “C” level things. Not crucial (A), not important (B), but still cool (C). It was great.

There are plenty of projects that have people who do C level stuff. Oftentimes people confuse B’s for A’s and C’s for B’s, but that’s another topic unto itself. No, the interesting thing here is that while plenty of companies and projects have people who create C stuff, very few have people who are in charge of C stuff from day-to-day.

This means that while someone might think up the James Bond room names and put them on the doors, there’ll probably be no one who will check up on that, and that means that ten years from now, they would probably still be there (if we had run the hotel, and not just an event).

For single events this isn’t a big problem. When it’s done it’s done, and even if some stuff failed, it doesn’t help moping about it. You try to learn for the next time, and move on.

For the long grind, it’s totally different. Routines get established FAST, and often without anyone thinking about it. And that’s where the C things are cursed. Because while there’s always someone in charge of the big stuff, the same isn’t true for the small stuff. Especially not when people have learned to work around it.

And that’s why I want a detail manager. Even though I know that by the time my company is big enough to be able to afford one, I’ll probably be just as bad as everyone else and will have forgotten all about it. Or maybe I should just try to get Disney to hire me as their detail manager.

Just a minor detail to fix, right?

Director at The College of Extraordinary Experiences, Coach at McKinsey & Founding Partner at The Global Institute For Thought Leadership. Author of 31 books.

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