Last week I had an opportunity to find out first hand, and both experiences got me thinking about the way people or institutions distinguish themselves and rise above comparison. Before we get to the “lessons,” though, allow me to share the story.
I have been a Prince fan since Purple Rain (1984). I mean, I really liked the album. The movie wasn’t bad. But the concert … oh, the concert. Once I witnessed that man command a crowd and pour out his talent, energy, and music to a live audience. Well, I was hooked for life.
So when my friend and performance partner, Philip Solomon, told me he’d been hired to perform with Prince at a private party in Austin, TX , I promptly persuaded him that he needed me in the show.
I know what you’re thinking: “A private party? Prince played a private party?” Yes, he did. This was a birthday celebration for an affluent couple (her’s actually) and about 300 of their friends. They spared no expense ensuring the event would not be outdone in the foreseeable future.
They hired two bands, including Grupo Fantasma, the same group Prince performed with in a driving rainstorm during Super Bowl Halftime this year. One of New York’s most respected designers was retained to arrange the decor and visual elements. The food was incredible, of course, and every item you could think of was well planned and executed by a coordinated team of party professionals … superior attention to detail.
As part of the show, we were witness to the efforts of Prince’s production team. Long before the event started, we watched how they prepared the stage, perfected the sound and lighting, and handled the security and comfort of his backstage area (in true rock star fashion). Once he took the stage, Prince performed with detailed precision, his every action, motion, note, and gesture contributing to the visual and sonic spectacle. We watched it all happen from ten feet away.
Two days later, I found myself in a different scene entirely: South Bend, IN. The University of Notre Dame.
I was hired to speak on two consecutive evenings for the Executive Vice President’s Division. My audiences were men and women who handle everything from technology and communication to business operations, financial aid, maintenance and care of the campus, and thousands of other “details” that contribute to the distinctive and incomparable experience that is Notre Dame.
I was hosted by John Affleck-Graves, Notre Dame’s Executive Vice President, and his right hand man, Mike Seamon. The hospitality of John, Mike, and Mike’s assistant Ginger was extraordinary. They made every effort to make me feel comfortable, welcomed, and connected to Notre Dame’s mission and rich history. I toured the campus, played the golf course, and learned much about the University. My performances took place in the Joyce Center, the beautiful arena where the Fighting Irish play basketball. A fantastic team of technicians handled my lighting, sound, and staging needs with expert precision. Their attention to detail set the stage for two very special and successful performances.
Mike Seamon, who was also Lou Holtz’s personal assistant during his senior year, provided the inspiration for this Action Mail. To paraphrase Mike: “One thing I learned from Lou is, whether you are trying to win or trying to create a great experience, it is all about the details. You don’t have to obsess about details, but you need to address them. You need to handle them. If you handle the details, you do it one time, and everything else falls into place.”
What makes Notre Dame (a relatively small school, with only 8,000 undergraduate students) one of the most sought after and respected educational destinations? What keeps them world-class leaders in athletics, academics and operational excellence? It’s the same thing that has driven Prince’s successful 35 year career. It’s the same thing that will help you and me distinguish ourselves from the crowd: details.
1. Get “detailed” about what you want to achieve. Identify details that will help you vividly picture successful achievements and realized dreams. Next, determine, in detail, whatspecifically will have to happen to get you there.
2. If you go a little bit further than others are willing to go, you will stand out by far.Take the time to address and handle the details in your life. That small investment of time and effort will pay enormous returns.
3. Once the details are covered, you can truly relax. Instead of feeling anxious or fearful that something unexpected might happen, you can delight in the knowledge that it’s covered. Enjoy the party. Enjoy the show. Enjoy your life!
I sure needed this message, and I hope you found it useful, as well. Now, I think I’ll put on my Notre Dame shirt, listen to some Prince, and think about the next steps of my life and career, with attention to the details.
Keep looking up!