Attention to detail. That’s something I learned from one of my very first jobs out of grad school. I had just finished school and starting my career. My assignment was to pull together various data sources and draft up chapter 2 of a strategic plan for the client. I cobbled the data together, packaged it up, and emailed it to my boss.
After a one-on-one sit down, he handed me the chapter back. In my day, we used hard copy paper. There were red pen marks everywhere. You couldn’t even see the document below all the red scribbles. He then says some words I’ll never forget, “Daniel, you need to take accountability in your work.”
I went home that night, all frustrated and angry. Here I am, hot shot grad student, thinking I knew everything. What school never taught you was how to take criticism, no matter how it’s delivered. I considered quitting, getting a new job. I wanted to say screw it and walk away.
After cooling down, I realized he had challenged me. It wasn’t him that was the problem. It was me. I needed to be accountable to my work. I needed to take pride in my work.
Years later, after working for two of the most anal bosses on the planet, I realized that they were two of my greatest mentors. My short time with the company (due to personal reasons), sparked a career where moving pixels mattered. In that time, I learned a few lessons I continue to carry to this day:
- Edit a document all the way up to the point where you click send. It’s never to late to haggle over word choice, checking for dotted i’s and crossing t’s.
- Pixels matter. If a box is out of alignment, it looks out of alignment. If it’s perfect, no one will know.
- You’ll burn out trying to get to perfection, but good enough is never enough. Good enough will make you average and you can’t afford to be average in a very competitive environment.
- Clients will never know that you put all the effort into making your work perfect, but they’ll be very quick to point out when it’s not.
- When you’re part of a small company (or a small team in a big company), it always feels good to beat the big boys (or girls) at the same game.
This is a big list of fairly generic conceptual ideas. Below are some examples of things I do:
- Zooming in 800% in PowerPoint to make sure that a box aligns to the pixel.
- Check to make sure that lines in bullet lists are ended by punctuation (or not) consistently.
- Reading a document, re-reading, printing it out and reading it, editing it, getting a fresh set of eyes to read it, and then doing it all over again.
- Asking why a graph, table, chart, or paragraph belongs in a document. If it has not purpose, it doesn’t belong. It should contribute to the story.
- Printing a document out in color and in black and white and flipping through it as a client would. Does it read well? Does it tell the story? What if I only skimmed? Would I also get the same message?
Finally, the biggest lesson I learned is that it takes a lot of work, genuinely a lot of hard work to produce good work. It meant getting cross-eyed as you scan a document for mistakes. It meant reading a document at least 100 times before saying good to go.
Thank you Mike and Dan. You taught me well.
PS: I don’t apply the same rigor to my blog. This is a free form platform. If I did, it would write one post a year.