Monday, November 06, 2006

One Minute or One Detail Can Change History (or any outcome)

In life, one minute or one detail can make the difference between success and failure. As happy as I was that the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series (I grew up in St. Louis), I could not stop thinking about what might have been if Carlos Beltran of the New York Mets (my favorite team now) had swung the bat in that instant when the bases were loaded in the bottom of the 9th … instead of taking a call strike 3 and ending the game, enabling the Cards to beat the Mets and win the National League Pennant. I know the experts said it was an "unhittable pitch," but Endy Chavez made an "uncatchable catch" to stop a homerun: might there not have been a miracle hit? But we will never know because in that final moment Carlos chose not to swing. That final moment changed history.

Consider this relevant conversation between a famous artist, abstract painter Josef Albers, and a brilliant actor, Maximilian Schell, who was also a gifted amateur pianist.

"Today is one of the most glorious days of my life," Albers said. "I did a drawing 27 years ago and there has always been something wrong with it. Today I discovered what the problem was. The upper line was a half-inch too low. Now I have fixed it, and the drawing is perfect."

"People ask, 'Who cares about half an inch?' replied Schell, "but when you think in practical terms -- like with the Olympic Games -- who knows? In downhill skiing, the winner's time can be one-thousandth of a second faster than the person in second place. The winner gets the gold medal and a lot of money, which is very important. So that one-thousandth of a second is not so bad. When I play a Mozart concerto and it sounds like 'ta-ta-ta,' and my teacher says I'm a tenth of a second too late, I play it all again. If you don't care about a tenth of a second, I say you are wrong. It makes the difference between the mediocre pianist and the great pianist."

So -- whether you are at Busch Stadium, on the ski slopes, at Lincoln Center, at the Metropolitan Museum or championing a client cause, the difference between being a winner and an also-ran can be the tiniest of increments. In the end, it's often simply a matter of what Albers described as "doing a bunch of little boring things correctly."

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