“Details make perfection, and perfection is not a detail.” – Leonardo Da Vinci
During the development phase of the Disneyland park attraction, Enchanted Tiki Room, about 50 years ago, Walt Disney convened a meeting with his team of Imagineers (the people who design and implement new and imaginative concepts at Walt Disney theme parks).
Walt observed the audio-animatronic birds moving, blinking, and singing during a musical performance and asked why they didn’t breathe. The Imagineers explained that it would require a host of complicated tinkering involving valves, circuits, and pumps. Imagineer, John Hench, added that people wouldn’t understand it because it would be “too much perfection.”
Walt Disney listened thoughtfully before replying with a timeless guiding principle that is still upheld in the company to this day: “People can feel perfection.”
Whether he was storyboarding an animated feature like “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” or planning the layout of his theme park, Walt Disney strived to create a flawless experience for his audience. He paid consideration to even the most minute detail, like the distance between a hot dog vendor and the trash cans – they had to be 25 steps between each other because that’s how long it took him to finish his hot dog.
For most people visiting the park, this quality is imperceptible at first glance, but if you look closer, you’ll notice the attention to detail everywhere: from the authentic props used in each ride, the millions of pieces of wardrobe that is made “stage-ready” every day, through to the tiny engravings of Mickey Mouse’s head on the manhole covers. It’s the details that create the magic.
This rule applies to anything that we deem perfect – whether it’s a beautiful work of art, a stellar dance performance, a breakthrough scientific study, or the embroidery on a favourite cushion. If you see anything that makes you say, “wow!”, you can be confident that there was someone who labored for hours to make sure that they got it ’just right’.
A person who pays attention to the details clearly communicates to the world that they care. Whether that be a friend who remembers your favorite ice cream flavor and buys you a scoop of it, or a Starbucks barista who spends extra time making your drink so that you’re satisfied with it. Even in the academic and professional sphere, students and employees who are detail-oriented have the edge over their competition. Superiors will view them as trustworthy, intelligent, resourceful, and quality-conscious. Half-hearted projects and performance demonstrate laziness and a lack of interest in the work.
If we are to notice and absorb details, we must learn how to manage our attention. Our attention is like a spotlight shining on the things that you choose to focus on. Attention is not just about that focus, but also about knowing what to ignore. There is a plethora of information and stimuli competing for our consideration, and we need to learn how to tune it out to avoid distractions. Redirect the mental energy you use on trivial tasks to the responsibilities and projects in front of you to produce your best work.
Our attention span is a limited resource, and we make the best use of it when we pay attention to what matters to us most. When you listen deeply to a loved one and relay details to them, you deepen the bond. When you take extra time to revise and re-do a project that’s close to your heart, you’ll experience a sense of satisfaction with the end product.
Fortunately, detail-orientation is a trait that we’re all capable of cultivating. Here are five things that you can do to build on your effort to pay attention to the details:
1. Recheck, clarify, and proofread: Hardly anyone gets it right the first time. Not even the most experienced. Author Patricia Fuller once said that “writing without revising is the literary equivalent of waltzing gaily out of the house in your underwear.” When speaking with others, clarify if you’re unable to understand them and ask more questions if needed. This is especially important in high stakes situations like receiving instructions.
2. Be observant and stay attuned to the present: Have you ever been so preoccupied with your thoughts that you failed to notice things that were right under your nose? Your mind may have been fixated on the past or the future. Those who notice the smallest details, however, live in the present moment. They attune to the environment and synthesize things on a deeper level.
3. Slow down: These days, everyone is in a rush. In this hurried state, we’re incapable of observing details. If you find yourself doing this, take a few deep breaths and bring your full attention to the activity you’re currently engaged in. Spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra said, “When we take time to breathe, to notice the present moment and to live within it, time becomes immaterial. We slow our pace and we give moments space to stretch.”
4. Improve memorization: Remembering details is just as important as noticing them because there’s a chance that we won’t retain the information for very long. To have it encoded in our mind so that we can easily retrieve it later, we need to boost our memory. There are a lot of techniques that improve memory, like associations, mnemonics, visualization, and chunking, among others. Improving your overall health with regular exercise, better nutrition, and good sleeping habits will improve your brain health, including your memory. You could also improve your memory by doing brain exercises and memory workouts.
5. Get organized: This one goes without saying: you can’t get things done when your mind is burdened with sorting through a mess, whether it’s physical or mental. Having structure and order frees up mental space to pay attention to details, especially when dealing with complex tasks. If you’re working on a project that requires you to analyze mounds of documents, you will do a much better job if they’re piled and categorized in an orderly way as opposed to being strewn all over your desk and floor.
The saying that “God is in the details,” could not be more accurate. When you find yourself lost in the flow of a task or activity, your mind goes into a space of timelessness. When you’re engaged in the details, you forget about all the things that don’t matter and focus on finding meaning and purpose, which is the doorway to an enlightened way of living and being in the world.
All my best on your journey,
Question for you: Do you consider yourself detail-oriented? Do you think that it’s an important quality to have?
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