(In)Attention to Details

Are we losing the ability to mind the details?  I don’t think so, but maybe!


Chalk this one up to amusement, but I ran across an article today that explains how the state of Oklahoma recently adopted “loser pays” for attorney fees in all civil suits.

That’s a big deal.  A really big deal.

But it was “unintentional.”

Yes, no kidding.  A bill was voted on, passed, and signed into law by a state legislative body and executive. And, its effects were unintentionally broad.  Here’s an article on this doozy.  The key quote:

The amendment, written by state Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, was intended to apply only to civil cases involving child sex-abuse.

But the amendment had a broader impact, according to the Senate author of the bill, state Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City. “Upon a closer reading of the amendment, it seems evident that it makes all civil cases … loser pays,” Holt told the World. “But nobody caught that.”

But nobody caught that…

We are talking about a massive change in liability for legal fees.  And the response is, essentially, “oops.”

Well, luckily the Oklahoma legislature can change it.

But it raises the question: Are we suffering from a societal migration away from what one of my favorite coaches used to call “attention to detail?”

When a legislature can pass a bill through multiple steps and have such a big miss, imagine what details are being missed in your company or in daily life.  You need look no more than your web browser to see the effect of lowering standards for attention to detail.  Today’s news media are a caricature of the phenomenon, where we are constantly barraged with half truths and partial lies, no matter where you stand on the political spectrum.

In most pursuits, details matter.  In critical ones, they matter a lot.  When you are acquiring a company or putting together the biggest sale of your life, it’s rarely ok to say “let’s let the lawyers handle that.”   In Oklahoma’s case, the law can be changed.  That’s not so when you forget to vet the representations and warranties in your purchase agreement!

Nirvana on attention to detail is challenging.  I’ve known many people consumed by the details.  The trick, I find, is to combine the accountant’s eye for detail with the artist’s eye for completeness.  You have to get the details right, but also be able to notice what’s missing.  You have to see the forest and the trees, as it were.

The best strategists that I know are able to master this art.

Can you?




Formwork, Not Framework

We sometimes miss the point when it comes to the use of frameworks in business.

Have you ever been around a management guru who can’t get away from his or her framework?  You know them, they are the ones who have trademarked the framework and, by golly, they are going to use it.

No?  Well, what about this one:  Have you ever asked someone to think about a strategy, and only received a filled in framework in response?  Surely, you’ve seen this one:

You and a business leader in your company:  “Give me a sense of your marketing strategy…”

2 weeks later:  “Here’s the strategy you asked for…we used the Segment–> Target –> Position framework.”

Ay Caramba.


It happens to people who are smart, and not.  It happens to people who are experienced, and not.  And, yes, it happens to people who should know better.

WGP has carried out more than 40 engagements in our short existence, with the vast majority of those focused on business unit or corporate strategy.  Our approach is littered with frameworks.  Littered, I tell you.


Because frameworks are useful as checklists. We use derivatives of classic business strategy frameworks all the time.  I have a personal affinity for the S-C-P framework, and it’s an absolute dinosaur (Structure, Conduct, Performance for those of you who don’t share my dino-approach to business strategy).

But, and this is an important but…the frameworks are not useful as strategies.  They are useful in helping to derive the right conversation that leads to a strategy.  And, that’s where so many management strategists go wrong.  Just like a balance sheet is a common basis of presentation for the financial position of a firm, strategic frameworks provide a common basis of presentation of strategic situations.  They don’t, however, provide interpretation.

You have to provide the interpretation…and the action.

And that’s the point of this post:  If you feel yourself being fed (or, feeding) frameworks as the answer to a business strategy question, you are probably off track.   Frameworks are not the answer, they are checklists for thinking.

Perhaps we should use the word formworks instead of frameworks because classical “frameworks” only provide a format for thinking.  They can never provide the skeleton of a real strategy.

Know how to use the tools.

Be careful out there.



When you are faced with many distractions…remember to fly the airplane.


It looks like there’s a Star Wars marathon on this weekend, and I fell right into the middle of A New Hope last night.

One of the more memorable scenes from that movie involves a team of pilots on a mission to destroy the Death Star.  In the midst of an attack run, two of the pilots come under attack by the bad guys.  One of them starts to look around and panic.  The other one simply continues speaking a mantra while keeping his sights on the objective…

“Stay on target.” 

The little mantra has been repeated in many internet memes and, no doubt, executive conversations.  And, there’s a reason.

When stuff starts going off kilter around you…staying on target is hard to do.

A great example of an exhortation to “stay on target” is contained in Atul Gawande’s excellent book The Checklist Manifesto.  In it, he describes the first instruction in the emergency checklist for a single engine airplane. It’s simple.


That’s right.  When you are the pilot and the troubleshooter, the most important thing to do in an emergency is actually not to troubleshoot.

It’s to fly the airplane.

There’s good learning in there for business leaders.  Let me describe three ways.

The first way is relevant to people who have a little bit too much of the philosopher in them.  These are the CEOs who relish high concept but not the nitty gritty.  They take the need to have a long term view too far, and they stop responding to short term needs.  CEOs who never meet with customers fall into this bucket. Yes, they exist.  Their failure is usually in ensuring delivery vs. direction.  I once worked near a CEO who had famously told his investors “I delivered you a 3 year plan, but not a 1 year plan.”   That’s the CEO who forgot to fly the airplane.

The second way is relevant to modern managers who struggle on the opposite end of the spectrum.  They are the ones who can’t look up from the gauges to see the mountain ahead. They spend too much time with customers or on the production floor, and too little time on direction of the company overall. These are the Dale Carnegie grads who always put people first, but who forget to stay on target with the organization as a whole.  The best examples of these executives are the ones who build magnificent operations and organizations tailored to solving yesterday’s problems.  You probably know them.

The third way is relevant to those who struggle to define what “flight” is.  These are the executives who only pursue financial performance as their “target.”  They think of flight only as airspeed and lift and not safe arrival at a destination.  The executive here is the one who hits every key performance indicator except the ones that point to the health of the business.  They are the ones whose customers are indifferent and whose top performing employees are leaving in droves. Next time you see a sick company with a CEO who departs after earning the biggest bonus of his or her life, you will think about this type of executive.

So…in your own life, you must “stay on target” and “fly the airplane.”  It matters whether you are too focused on the long term or the short term. And, it matters when you may not have defined what a healthy target (or flight itself) actually is.