Twenty years ago, I graduated from the United States Naval Academy. During my years as a midshipmen, I learned extensively about "attention to detail" starting at the beginning with Plebe Summer.
We would line up in a platoon of three squads (10 to 12 midshipmen per squad) and an upperclassmen would slowly walk down the line, stopping at and facing each mid. The upperclassman then inspected the mid's uniform from top to bottom, making sure every last bit of clothing was in its proper place.
- The cover (hat) must be clean, horizontal and not pushed back on the head.
- The men must be clean shaven.
- No loose threads were allowed on the uniform. These were called "Irish Pennants".
- A clean gig line—a straight line formed by the trouser fly, the belt buckle and the buttons on the shirt—was mandatory.
- Shoes had to be shined.
I remember watching from the corner of my eye as midshipmen dropped from standing outside in the hot sun too long with locked out knees while waiting to be inspected.
Room inspections were next. Beds were made with hospital corners and material pulled taut across the top. All surfaces, horizontal and vertical, were cleaned and dusted. Floors were stripped then waxed. Sinks, showers and mirrors were spotless.
At the time, this attention to detail seemed like overkill, but in the military, missing a seemingly small detail could mean a squad mate's death. It starts with room and dress inspection but leads to patrol in a combat area where you could flood a submarine if you forget to close the valve that keeps seawater out.
I recognize now that the military's lessons spilled over into other aspects of my life including business and triathlon. For me, it was focus on the details in triathlon training that led an average athlete (me) to achieve uncommon results (a sub-nine hour Ironman finish as an amateur while working full time).
"The world's best are always looking at ways to improve their program, not using an exact template from the previous year. They're looking at the small components. For example: nutrition or strength training or sleep or getting body work done and integrating that as part of their routine."
Success, it turns out, is in the details; and there no time like the present for a training inspection.
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