Go Small or Go Home: Doing the Ordinary Things Extraordinarily Well


How many times have you heard that the key to success is to “go big”? “ The conventional wisdom is that if you don’t have the Big Idea, the Next Big Thing, The Breakthrough Concept, you’ll never be a big winner.  That’s what it’s all about right? You either think big or you go home.

I’d like to suggest something different. Thinking big is important, but unless you and your organization start thinking, valuing, and celebrating “small,” you will never succeed!

Great teams focus on doing the ordinary things extraordinarily well. They obsess over the details. Why? Because that’s the only way to turn a Big Idea from just an idea into an actual win on game day.

One of the most moving interviews I ever heard was with tennis star Pete Sampras after he beat three former US Open Champions to win his last US Open before retiring.  He was at that time, and still may be, arguably the best tennis player in history. He was asked during the interview what he thought was the key to his success. Pete, never a person to use a lot of words, simply said “I just worked really hard at my game and was able to do the ordinary things extraordinarily well I guess!”

Again—great athletes, great leaders in any field, and great organizations do the ordinary things extraordinary well. Don’t get me wrong. “Go big or go home” has its place when you’re “standing in the future” to create a compelling vision for yourself or your organization. You have to dream big, and paint a vivid picture of what success entails, or you won’t get to experience that success. But unless you focus on the details, the ordinary things that end up leading to extraordinary results, you’re going home.

Successful organizations have learned to harness the power of big ideas by knowing they come to reality by thinking small.

Have you ever sat in a meeting and have someone present a strategy by saying, “Here’s my idea for a new strategy. It’s a loser but I’m presenting it anyway.” Of course you haven’t, because every strategy sounds like a winning strategy. But often, the difference between a winning and losing strategy is the ability to execute. In order to execute well, you have to get small. I’d be willing to bet that your last great customer experience didn’t come because someone did something heroic for you. It much more likely came as a result of an ordinary interaction in which the other person took great care to make every little detail go perfectly.

I’ve been working with organizations for over 30 years, helping to build engaged enterprises. We often start at the enterprise level, rolling out a new big idea or program, and there’s no doubt that what happens and what gets communicated at that level is critically important. But in the end real progress only comes when we get small, because building engagement is a local phenomenon.

It happens when every manager, in every unit in every division, builds plans with their people and executes on those plans. It happens when leaders and employees at every level take responsibility for making their organization a great place to work. It happens when leaders at every level come to understand the power of a simple thank you when they see someone doing an ordinary thing extraordinarily well. It happens when leaders learn that taking the time to know their people on a personal level is time well spent. It happens when leaders recognize that there are no back offices in any organization, when they believe and make everyone else believe that everybody’s work is critical to the success of the organization.

So what do you think? When was the last time you got small with your people?

Let me know your thoughts.

Joseph M. Patrnchak

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