#22 - 7 Habits of Highly Effective Creators: Sweat the right details
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The power law, which results in a small number of winners who extract the majority of value in an ecosystem, is all around us. This pattern can be seen in music, sports, business, and just about every other arena.
So as you might expect, top creators earn significantly more than average creators. But what sets top creators apart from the rest? What can we learn from them?
Top creators have adopted 7 key habits that improve their odds of success in an extremely competitive field.
1. Consistent production
2. Sweat the right details
3. Know your audience
4. Scaling output
5. Creating is combining
6. Embrace different mediums
7. Enjoy the process
This is part 2 of this series — Sweat the right details: What does it mean, why you should care, and what are the “right” details to pay attention to?
Sweat the right details
What does it mean to sweat the details?
Sweating the details means taking the effort to ensure that certain key attributes of a product (or content / experience) exceed expectations. If done right, this will deliver unexpected surprise and delight, even if most people can’t place their finger on why.
It’s the hundreds of slightly varied voice-acted grunts in Super Smash Bros.
It’s the sparkles / celebratory fanfare you get after performing a high-value action in a software product.
It’s the easter egg hidden in a movie that references canonical lore.
It’s the hand-written “thank you” note you receive after helping someone.
It’s the way Apple packages their Watch product with matching border radius and shapes across the instructions insert, the wrapper around the paper, the watch face on the paper, and the actual watch face.
These things do not happen by accident.
Why you should care about details
Details lead to excellence (and perception of excellence)
Humans are evolutionarily wired to make snap decisions. If a customer notices lots of small mistakes, it can make them question whether you can be trusted with big things. Take care of the details, and you’re more likely to be perceived as someone who can be relied upon to know their shit.
In a corporate environment, many hiring managers who will toss out resumes that have even one typo. Their thinking is: “If you can’t be bothered to proofread the one document that represents you to a potential employer, how can you be trusted to take care with customers when you’re actually on the job?”
For video creators, many times their lighting and set up contributes to how viewers perceive their video’s “quality”. The detail of how creators utilize a combination of key light, fill light, and rim light leads to different viewing experiences. While “quality” is a subjective measure in this context, it nonetheless plays a role in getting viewers to perceive creators as professional and credible.
Small details add up to the big picture
John Wooden led the UCLA basketball team to win 10 NCAA championship titles. Each year, at the first meeting with the team, Wooden would take the first few minutes to personally instruct players on how to put on their socks and shoes.
He would hold up a sock and put it on his own foot, showing the team how to smooth it out, ensuring there are no wrinkles around the little toe and heel areas. He would carefully demonstrate how a shoe should be laced, and how they must be tightened up snugly by each eyelet, tied, and then double-tied, so that it doesn’t come undone during practice or a match.
Wooden believed that these details, which are within the team’s control, are the key building blocks of success. They are the little things that lead to big outcomes. These actions helped the team to reduce blisters, minimize unforced errors, and build a daily habit of paying attention to meaningful details.
Details stir up emotions and move people to action
When you take the time to think ahead for your customers / audience, it manifests in the way they experience and react to your product. This is as true for unboxing a new toy as it is for an existing software user running into a rare edge case.
Twitter took care to account for the scenario where users lose internet connectivity while drafting a Tweet or DM. This minor feature lets users copy the message to their clipboard to send later. This gives users a sense of relief; the alternative could have been losing a long message without warning, leaving users frustrated and angry.
Creators take opportunities to perfect the numerous ways they interact with their community members. Sometimes, this is before the “featured content” is ever shown.
Seagull, a former Overwatch League player and Twitch streamer, utilized software to show a procedurally generated “battle-royale” sequence among his paid subscribers before his live steam starts.
This clever detail gives viewers a sense of delight, anticipation, and excitement (who’s going to win??). It elicits loyalty from paid subscribers (my name is showing up on stream!) while garnering curiosity from free viewers (maybe I should Subscribe to get my name on stream).
You can stir up a huge range of emotions when you deliver on the “right” details.
What are the “right” details to care about?
All that said, you’d never get anything done if you took extreme care with every detail in all aspects of your product / content. So how do you selectively pick what to focus on? I recommend assessing based on the potential for details to contribute to high variance impact.
High variance means there’s a wide range of outcomes (good or bad), that have a reasonable probability to occur. Low variance means there’s a limited range of outcomes. Consider the following example.
A course rubric states that homework will account for 5% of students’ final grade, and exams are worth 95% of students’ final grade. Homework and exam prep are mostly non-overlapping, and each will take 20 hours in the school term.
In this scenario, homework is a low variance activity, and exams are a high variance activity. The “right” course of action is for students to disproportionately spend time studying for exams rather than doing homework.
In the context of making product / content, if a detail can make a customer more likely to remember something or perform an action, that’s high variance. For instance:
Design patterns that help customers successfully complete a purchase
Education / tool tips that help new users to successfully onboard and activate
An experience that gets people to tell friends / post on social unprompted
Typos that completely change the meaning of a sentence
A story or imagery that helps people recall a lesson (or a brand) consistently
Empty states / error page experiences that delight users and get them to perform a critical action from there (e.g. make a post)
To sum it up
Sweating details means taking the extra effort to focus on the parts of an end product or experience that result in high variance outcomes.
When the “right” details are taken care of, they help your content / product / brand to be perceived favorably. They can elicit strong emotions from people, and move them to action. Ultimately, little details add up to impact the big picture.
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