I generally try to avoid sports sayings and analogies in business. Many are dumb or irrelevant. Others convey an “us guys” sexism that’s inappropriate. But there’s one for which I make an exception: “the will to win means nothing without the will to prepare”. It’s true beyond true.
I was reminded of this saying and its fundamental truth twice this past week in New York. The first time was when I stopped into Sarabeth’s in the Chelsea Market. I was a few minutes early for a meeting and thought I would grab a cup of coffee and a few cookies. Sarabeth’s is well known and well loved by New Yorkers for it’s great baked goods. Baking, while an art, is an art of precision not estimation. I got a glimpse of the precision behind the quality when I saw the owner fussing over a Christmas display. She didn’t approve of a cloth that one of her staff had put under rack. I don’t know in any absolute sense if her judgement was right or wrong. What I do know is that she was interested in every detail of her business and it showed in the quality of the product and the experience.
The second lesson in preparing for greatness was a little more unusual. I saw in the newspaper that an exhibit of Edward Hopper’s art at the Whitney Museum would be ending soon. Even though the weather was horrible (3.5 inches of rain in one day) I decided to head up Madison Avenue to try to get a look before the doors closed for the evening.
Hopper is best know for stark paintings, including Nighthawks, that capture the essence of America during the Depression. One of the great bonuses of this exhibition is that it showed how Hopper built the paintings in the exhibition meticulously piece by piece. He sketched each element that would appear in the finished painting. He did many several different ways making subtle changes until it was just right. Then he brought the pieces together into the final product.
I’ve never around a great painter nor watched one work. Their process was wholly mysterious to me until I viewed this exhibit. This experience also brought to mind the Edison statement that “genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Which sounds suspiciously like a successful small business. It’s the details of your business that add up to a great whole. Great outcomes are only possible with great preparation