As I began to read Linda Thaler Kaplan and Robin Koval's book, I was reminded of the "Broken Window Theory" that George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson discuss in an article published in the Atlantic. As they explain, solving what may seem to be insignificant problems in an urban area (e.g. repairing broken windows) can reduce the frequency and severity of much more serious problems (e.g. violent crime). I was reminded, also, that the titles of two of Jason Jennings' books are Less Is More and It's Not the Big That Eat the Small...It's the Fast That Eat the Slow. And, that Mies van der Rohe once observed, "God is in the details." I wholeheartedly agree with Kaplan and Koval that "small" can sometimes have great power or impact and there are countless examples of that. Rather than wrestle or cross swords with Goliath, David slew him with a carefully selected, well-placed stone. And according to legend, Richard III lost his kingdom when his horse fell to the ground at Bosworth after losing a shoe "for wont of a nail." More recently and tragically, the space shuttle Challenger disaster occurred 73 seconds into its flight because of the failure of a gasket (i.e. an O-ring seal) in its right solid rocket booster. Although we cannot control everything, and small will not always have power and impact, Kaplan and Koval suggest, "Believing that it is the small things that make the greatest difference is not just an ideology - it is also timely and pragmatic advice born out of the economically challenged world we live in."
The great value of their book is derived from their pragmatic approach to all manner of situations and circumstances in which recognition and accommodation of the right details can indeed have a significant, beneficial impact. They cite retired U.C.L.A. men's basketball coach John Wooden custom of devoting his entire first meeting with players explaining how to put on their socks. He realized the value of that when playing high school and then college basketball in Indiana and introduced the custom at the first practice of the team he coached at Dayton High School in Kentucky. The tradition continued until his last season of coaching at U.C.L.A. when his team that year won the last of ten NCAA titles during his last 12 seasons, including seven in a row from 1967 to 1973. By the way, not one of his players ever had any problems with blisters. I also learned during a memorable afternoon with Coach Wooden after he retired that he had planned each 90-minute practice on a 3x5 file card and had saved every card since the first team practice at Dayton High School. Two key points: Coach Wooden left nothing to chance that he could control, and, no detail was insignificant if it was in the best interests of his players, the team, and their university.
I really appreciate the informal, almost conversational tone that Kaplan and Koval immediately establish with their reader before they work their way through an especially lively and eloquent narrative. The chapter titles are clever (e.g. "Go the Extra Inch") but not cute. They take the subject (i.e. the power of small) seriously because of the potentially enormous implications and consequences of neglecting or ignoring "the right details" but, that said, they should have provided an occasional qualification to temper an otherwise strident comment. Surely they realize that some (but not all) "little mistakes spell disaster"; there are times when it is possible to "make it big by thinking small" but there other times when thinking small makes "it" even smaller; and when "small changes the world," the results are not necessarilybeneficial. I think the subtitle should have been "Why Little Things Can Make All the Difference."
That said, this is nonetheless an insightful, thought-provoking, and well-written book in which Thaler and Koval explain why it is important to develop several different mindsets, including those that understand and appreciate "The Power of Small" as well as "The Power of Large." In another of his books, Think Big, Act Small, Jason Jennings affirms the value of having a bold and inspiring vision while "nailing the fundamentals." The most innovative companies encourage and support constant experimentation by those who take small scale, carefully calculated, and prudent risks. They reward rather than punish those associated with an experiment that fails, viewing it, in fact, not as a "failure" but as a learning opportunity. Each of the world's largest corporations began as a small idea that one or two people began to develop, albeit with "high hopes and great expectations." Think of that idea as an acorn. Today, it is an oak tree. The same can be said of small and isolated acts of kindness that have become worldwide movements to help those less fortunate.
With both skill and passion, Linda Thaler Kaplan and Robin Koval urge their readers to be alert for the important details that others miss, to become an effective problem finder, to make "going above and beyond the call of duty" their standard operating procedure, to be a more inquisitive and attentive listener, to take advantage of every opportunity to tell others how much they are appreciated, and in countless other ways to apply and leverage "the power of small" whenever and wherever appropriate. Well-done!