Why Small Details Can Have a Big Impact


In 1982 two social scientists introduced a criminological theory called ‘the broken window theory’ which was based on the idea that vandals would be more likely to break even more windows in a building when broken windows were left unrepaired. Eventually they might break into the building and vandalise it some more and maybe even set the place alight.

Fast forward to the 1990’s and the mayor of New York Rudy Guiliani used the idea to tackle crime rates and started by heavily focusing on what might have been considered as minor crimes such as fare evasion and graffiti. In his book The Tipping Point, author Malcolm Gladwell talks about the knock on effects of the theory in what he ultimately describes as the tipping point and why small things make a big difference.

He says that if a broken window is left unrepaired then people walking by will conclude that nobody cares and nobody is in charge. This will soon gather speed and lead to much bigger detrimental effects further down the line. Back to Rudy Guiliani and what this meant for the changes he made to the streets of New York? Even though he received much early criticism for focusing on seemingly petty crimes, the long term results were astonishing.

In 9 years from the start of Guiliani’s focus on the smaller crimes the murder rates (larger crimes) had come down from 2801 to 537, meaning the lowest murder rates since 1963. The smaller seemingly insignificant details can make a huge difference.

The danger of letting the smaller details go, the breaking of rules, the slipping of standards is that they give the impression that you don’t care and the effects can be devastating. What Gladwell points out is that crime is contagious.

Especially when these ‘crimes’ can be seen in our environment, they influence the behaviour of everybody else. What are the ‘broken windows’ in your business and are you in the process of fixing them?

It could be anything such as tidy working environment, organised workspace, quality of equipment, dress code, unrepaired facilities, training of staff, motivational rewards, how you answer the phone, greet a client, the list goes on.

Don’t underestimate the contagiousness of the smaller details…

Keep making it happen,

Martin.

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