Control the Controllable
I've never believed in "Don't sweat the small stuff."
In fact, I've always found the "big stuff" usually starts out as "small stuff", and when you do sweat the small stuff, the big stuff is less likely to materialize and cause you headaches.
For an interesting example of where sweating the small stuff might have helped save a few headaches, we can turn to the recent Peloton situation.
I'm not a Sex and the City fan, but millions of people are, and so I understand why Peloton might have jumped at the chance to be featured in an episode of the series reboot, "And Just Like That...". The opportunity would have been especially attractive if it wasn't something for which they paid to participate, as claimed in this WSJ article.
Except it may turn out they actually paid a lot for agreeing to be featured.
**SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN'T YET WATCHED THE EPISODE**
In the show, right after working out on a Peloton bike, one of the series' most beloved characters... drops dead of a heart attack.
You've probably heard the old saying, "There's no such thing as bad publicity.”
I don't buy that; I think having a mega-popular television show strongly suggest using your products can lead to your death is publicity you'd rather avoid.
According to the WSJ, Peloton wasn't told how their bike would be used as part of the story and was just as surprised at the audience at this morbid turn of events.
If that's true, the company's crisis management team deserves some praise for how quickly they responded.
First, Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a cardiologist on Peloton’s health and wellness advisory council, issued a statement on behalf of the company. Implying the character was due for a heart attack eventually, she said, “(Character who died) lived what many would call an extravagant lifestyle—including cocktails, cigars, and big steaks—and was at serious risk." And then, in an ingenious spin, she suggested, "Riding his Peloton bike may have even helped delay his cardiac event.” Nicely done, (Spin-)Doctor.
And second, Peloton very quickly partnered with Ryan Reynolds's agency, Maximum Effort, to release a cheeky "don't worry, he's alive and doing just fine" video.*
The spot (titled "Unspoiler Alert") begins by showing the character in question is alive, well... and eager to ride his Peloton Bike again. That's followed by a rapid-fire Ryan-Reynolds voiceover: "And just like that, the world was reminded that regular cycling stimulates and improves your heart, lungs, and circulation, reducing your risk of cardiovascular diseases. Cycling strengthens your heart muscles, lowers resting pulse, and reduces blood fat levels. He's alive."
We got it, Peloton: the character's death was definitely not your fault.
From a crisis management perspective, I'd say Peloton's response is admirable.
But a crisis response wouldn't have been needed if the team had "sweat the small stuff."
Specifically, when the people at "And Just Like That..." called to get Peloton's permission, here's how the conversation should have gone:
AJLT: "Hi! We'd like your permission to use a Peloton bike in an upcoming episode!"
Peloton Marketing Team: "We're flattered! Before we agree... how will it be used, exactly?"
AJLT: "Well, we can't actually share that... you know, scripts are confidential."
Peloton: "We totally understand! But I hope you can understand our brand is very important to us, and we need to know exactly how it will be used before granting permission. We don't need to see the entire script... Just a few pages before and after the scenes where the bike will appear will be fine."
SatC: "Um, that's not possible, I'm afraid."
Peloton: "That's unfortunate because I'm afraid that's a deal-breaker. But call us back if you change your mind!"
Paranoid? Perhaps. But as Andy Grove was famously known for saying, "Only the paranoid survive".
You can't control everything, and even the best plans get spoiled unexpectedly sometimes.
But work hard to control the controllable.
That includes thinking about all the ways your plans might go wrong and making contingency plans for those scenarios. It also includes paying attention to the small stuff so you can react quickly as soon as things start to go wrong.
Some people will still insist you shouldn't sweat the small stuff.
But "don't let a spark become an inferno" feels like a smarter approach to me.
P.S. I'm not at all saying you should micromanage people. I believe you should hire good people and then trust them to do the jobs you hired them to do. But micromanaging the details of an initiative or campaign usually isn't a bad thing.
* Ryan Reynolds and Maximum Effort were widely praised for the work they did to mock Peloton's first television ad, but it appears Peloton didn't hold a grudge and decided hiring an agency with a proven ability to develop a "response ad" blazingly fast was a good idea.