I’ve been reminded lately just important little things are to significant success. So, occasionally I’ll be musing on these small but critical practices that can make a big difference. You can read the first one here.

Small thing number two that can make a big difference: Attention to both the big and the small

The following story appears in, The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. It is worth the read and makes the point better than I ever could about the value of attention to big  and small things. Apply as you see fit to your personal life, your work, your relationships, your "whatever."

A certain shopkeeper sent his son to learn about the
secret of happiness from the wisest man in the world. The lad wandered
through the desert for 40 days, and finally came upon a beautiful
castle, high atop a mountain. It was there that the wise man lived.

Rather than finding a saintly man, though, our hero, on entering the
main room of the castle, saw a hive of activity: tradesmen came and
went, people were conversing in the corners, a small orchestra was
playing soft music, and there was a table covered with platters of the
most delicious food in that part of the world. The wise man conversed
with everyone, and the boy had to wait for two hours before it was his
turn to be given the man’s attention.

The wise man listened attentively to the boy’s explanation of why he
had come, but told him that he didn’t have time just then to explain
the secret of happiness. He suggested that the boy look around the
palace and return in two hours.

“Meanwhile, I want to ask you to do something”, said the wise man,
handing the boy a teaspoon that held two drops of oil. “As you wander
around, carry this spoon with you without allowing the oil to spill”.

The boy began climbing and descending the many stairways of the
palace, keeping his eyes fixed on the spoon. After two hours, he
returned to the room where the wise man was.

“Well”, asked the wise man, “Did you see the Persian tapestries that
are hanging in my dining hall? Did you see the garden that it took the
master gardener ten years to create? Did you notice the beautiful
parchments in my library?”

The boy was embarrassed, and confessed that he had observed nothing.
His only concern had been not to spill the oil that the wise man had
entrusted to him.

“Then go back and observe the marvels of my world”, said the wise man. “You cannot trust a man if you don’t know his house”.

Relieved, the boy picked up the spoon and returned to his
exploration of the palace, this time observing all of the works of art
on the ceilings and the walls. He saw the gardens, the mountains all
around him, the beauty of the flowers, and the taste with which
everything had been selected. Upon returning to the wise man, he
related in detail everything he had seen.

“But where are the drops of oil I entrusted to you?” asked the wise
man. Looking down at the spoon he held, the boy saw that the oil was

“Well, there is only one piece of advice I can give you”, said the
wisest of wise men. “The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels
of the world and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon”.