A wise person once said that the devil is in the details. I don’t pretend to understand exactly what he meant (I’m not much of a theologian), but I know a few things about business, and in that context the statement makes a lot of sense.
For startups, details can mean operations, payroll, recruitment, or for a smaller business, communication, tax help or social media strategy. In the aggregate, these factors absolutely affect the success of your startup, but a fixation on the details too early in the startup process can cause a lot of problems too.
Whoever said the devil was in the details probably meant that you should watch the details more closely, but I’m going to argue that worrying too much too early can have a paralyzing effect, both on people and businesses. Behavioral specialists call this phenomenon “analysis paralysis.”
Especially for a startup, to be paralyzed is to be stillborn. You can’t afford to be so overwhelmed with minutiae that you lose your drive or lower your vision.
There’s no such thing as a smooth road to success
A lot of entrepreneurs secretly hope that success will be easy. Maybe if they just plan better this time, they won’t have to firefight as much and they’ll grow faster. Maybe if they iron out all the details beforehand, they won’t have as much to worry about later.
Now, obviously you don’t need me to tell you the importance of planning or having a firm strategy, but this attitude betrays a lack of experience. Pragmatically speaking, every startup struggles. Every entrepreneur spends a lot of time fighting fires. Every day brings new crises and potential disasters.
The companies that successfully overcome all these pitfalls are the ones that have an overarching vision. They have clear, well-defined goals and a mission that drives them forward, even through setbacks.
I will always believe that it’s better to start and troubleshoot along the way than it is to experience analysis paralysis and never start.
The bigger you get, the simpler some things become
An important thing to remember is that you won’t need to worry about the details very long if your company is successful. You can hire an Operations Officer or an IT expert or legal counsel. These professionals will do a better job at managing their fields of expertise than you ever could, and you’ll be free to worry about more important things.
Most entrepreneurs agree that the first few months in business are the most difficult. Roles can be unclear, accidents and mistakes happen often, there’s not usually a lot of money to throw around and staff tends to be spread very thin on the ground. The sooner you lock down your basics and expand, the sooner you can hire new staff and better systems to prevent future problems.
It sounds brave, or maybe even foolish to look forward to expansion when there are still company details to be ironed out, but isn’t that how we learn everything? You don’t wait to go to elementary school until you can read. You show up to class with a hungry attitude and you do your homework and pretty soon you’re reading as well as anyone. Business skills are no different.
Again, if you never move forward with your plans, you’ll never have the resources to expand or bring in experts. If you make details your priority, they might become the only thing you have left to worry about.
Every forest is composed of trees
Ultimately, the details work themselves out. I know this sounds hard to believe as well, but it’s largely true. Starting a business is like a hiking trip. The further you walk, the lighter your pack becomes and the better you get at dodging stones. It would be silly to stay home for fear of getting a rock in your shoe.
As an entrepreneur, you need to stay positive and take care of yourself. If you lose hope or become overwhelmed with detail-oriented anxiety, the people in your team will falter also. Focus on the important things – your purpose and your vision for the company. If you don’t worry about the big picture, who will?
When you choose to see the forest, you can’t help but see trees as well. The opposite isn’t always true.
Now, having said all that, I want to briefly reiterate that the details do matter. Don’t ignore problems when they actually threaten to ruin you. Don’t make stupid mistakes because you don’t have your facts straight. Be smart and be careful. But be dynamic and proactive as well.
Yes, the devil is in the details, but don’t allow them to bedevil you. With vision and pragmatism, you can get out of the weeds and make real contributions to your company’s success.