Detail Orientation: Broken Windows, Broken Business

When I worked for Expeditors, a book circulating through management called Broken Windows Broken Business was very popular. It talks about how making sure to fix mistakes and problems at the detail level will lead to greater overall success, using the clean up of New York city as an example. Broken Windows is more than just a metaphor, in New York it was quite literal - areas with real broken windows invited break-ins, graffiti, and a rise in other sorts of crimes.

I am thinking about this today as I diligently work on fixing all sorts of little tiny data bugs. These are things that our beloved users might not even notice 95% of the time, but nevertheless I think it is just so important not to let these details slip. I look at local search service Citysearch, and see such a clear example of broken windows: listings for restaurants with data that has never been cleaned, or places that have closed years ago, and duplicate places. Another broken window is obnoxiously poor search relevance featuring paid ad placement. The site feels like a 1990s ghost town to me.

Fixing the little things can be tedious and time consuming, but I find myself so satisfied in knowing that I am helping (in my own small way) to create a user experience that doesn't have those broken windows so common of content-driven websites. Since I work on the data and content side of the product, and not in software development, I love any part of my job that can actually touch the end user experience (since so much of what we do is important, but behind the scenes). I think Wikipedia is extremely admirable, in that they are a site depending solely on user generated content, and still manage to resolve debates between authors and present clear, grammatically correct and factually accurate entries. I trust Wikipedia implicitly, because I know they have a strong process in place to avoid broken windows in their product. I believe tht by working hard to eliminate tiny data bugs, I am working towards creating this same implicit trust in our content, for users of Whrrl.

At Expeditors, "attention to detail" was one of the cultural attributes , and I think this goes hand in hand with integrity (another cultural attribute). There were people who I had the good fortunate to work with who were so incredible, so reliable, so diligent in so many levels of the organization. Whether it was manual labor in the warehouse, data entry in the branch offices, or management at the regional and corporate levels, they were people who had this "broken windows" mentality ingrained into their very souls. This is something I want to take with me to Pelago and continue to cultivate in myself; I think it is highly admirable attribute to possess. I think you can be highly productive and intelligent and not possess this attribute, because it truly is a skill. There are plenty of messy geniuses and I couldn't live without them, but I know that at least for me knowing the details are correct on a regular basis leads me to trust in myself and my judgment more completely and reduces my stress level significantly.

Buy this book at Amazon.com: Broken Windows, Broken Business: How the Smallest Remedies Reap the Biggest Rewards by Michael Levine

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