Do Big Things And Eliminate Distractions

Do Big Things And Eliminate Distractions

Eliminate distractions and focus on big ideas. Do big things, so that small things stay small.

At the AllThingsD conference earlier this month, there was an intriguing interview with Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal and now founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX. He's a big thinker. While most of the world is pushing papers, breaking paper clips, and typing something for someone to approve—Elon is pioneering life on Mars using reusable space rockets, and long-distance, electric sports cars.

Elon Musk said this, "We spend too much time on small ideas." In the context of the interview, he implied that when you focus on big ideas and big goals, you can make much more progress and you don't get distracted and preoccupied by small ideas. The ever quoted principle, "Do small things every day towards your dream and you'll eventually make it" can actually be a quote that gets in the way.

The 88 cent Sunkist

Just the other day, I stopped by a store to buy my wife a birthday card. Standing in line to checkout, a man in front of me was holding up the entire line. He was beadily focused on something at the cashier's desk and blocked out the big picture of the world waiting on him (well, just me and about 10 other guys). I had no idea what he was doing, but he was making the manager of the store write on a small Post-It note. "Yes be sure to sign it here that you're the manager. I want Sunkist—Sunkist!"

As he left the store, I asked the manager what that was all about. She said he was having her write a Rain Check so he could come back and buy 1 liter bottles of Sunkist because it was on sale for 88 cents and they were out of stock. He saved 12 cents. Serving yourself, but screwing the big picture.

When we focus on small things and place a magnifying glass over those tasks, ideas, and "12 cent savings," we start to become more and more selfish. Selfishness leads to a close-mindedness and close-mindedness clicks its heels, snaps its fingers, and pulls a Grump out of the hat. Yes, that's the proverbial you.

When the small things become BIG things—big enough to stop focusing on everything else—they become your life, and then your life cannot be messed with. Think about it, if you're willing to hold up an entire line for 12 cents, your small savings cannot be messed with. Your precious email time cannot be messed with. Your task at hand cannot be interrupted, even if by a customer who needs you.

Telling Newlyweds "No" Is Not A Good Business Model

Speaking of which, yesterday I was staying at a hotel where a newlywed, honeymoon couple was checking-in. The bride was still in her dress, the groom still looking dapper. It was their first night together. As they began the check-in process, the acting manager focused on something small. "Sorry your credit card doesn't match the card on file for this honeymoon suite. We need the exact card."

The customer and new husband, needing to be victorious in front of his new bride, replies, "Can I use my credit card? My parents booked the room and they are in a different city so can we just change the card?"

Acting manager: "NO, I'm going to need your parents to come with their card."

Maybe it was a policy, maybe it was her way of doing things, maybe she had little man with a pitchfork standing on her right shoulder telling her to be difficult. I don't know. But something small got in the way of a big picture.

What do you spend your day doing? Is your day all about what you need to get done just to check a few to-do boxes, or is there a bigger vision that is actively being added to? It doesn't have to be building a new planet or being the first rock band to play on Mars, but it should be bigger than yourself and the strides you take to get there should be pushing the boundaries of your comfort space.

Manager at the hotel: Listen, even though it's not our policy, go ahead and check-in the newlywed couple. If your hotel's big thing is to "Be the best hotel experience in the world possible," then you failed. If your big thing is to "Make sure all the small little things get done according to the way it's been done since I was 5." You succeeded.

The small things became big. When that happens, big things stay away from you and small things find you, latch on to you, and drive you nuts. You'll probably have a hard time making friends that think big.

Tasks can be big or small. I always have to look at myself and ask, "Am I doing this just to get it done? Or is there a domino effect on this?" Then it changes my delivery, tone and focus.

  • Small way to do something: Deliver a product to someone that ordered the product.
  • Big way to do something: Deliver a product with a note that reinforces your dream as a team and their value as a person—maybe even with a gift. Something that will be remembered and won't fade into the distance of "I'll never remember this moment ever again."

Do Big Things and eliminate small distractions. There will always be time to save 12 cents on soda.