In Praise of Small Things (Notes from Spain)

When we’re chasing growth, the tendency is not towards the small or incremental. We want big results, so we assume it takes big, sweeping actions to get there.

But often times the biggest difference makers are much more nuanced. Thoughtful touches that might seem insignificant in isolation, but cumulatively can add up to the kind of growth that money just can’t buy.

On a recent trip across Spain, I encountered several dozen tour guides, restaurants, shops and accommodations through the course of our two week visit. Barring a couple flat out misses, the majority of my experiences were good ones.

But there were a few that stood out as exceptional.

They included:

A hyperlocal tour guide who took the time to research everyone in my party’s social media pages and used the information he uncovered to make the tour all the more special and personalized.

A host who checked in regularly via text to see how our visit was going, ask if we needed anything and offer up a series of local happenings he recommend we check out.

he waiter at Taperia Ordesa, who after noticing our dismay at the menu all but ordered a sampling of items for us, taking into account dietary restrictions, appetite and our desire to eat like locals.

Or the charming owner of Les Liles, who despite being in business for almost four decades still painstakingly wrapped and ribboned each item we purchased as if it was her very first sale.

Could any of these have made up for a decidedly bad product? Probably not.

But as a compliment to an already quality offering, these touches propelled the good into the exceptional. They helped turn an experience I might vaguely recall into one that I couldn’t wait to share.

There’s much we can learn from these sole proprietors and small businesses, all of whom managed to make big impressions through simple acts of thoughtfulness. There weren’t any big plans or budgets driving these acts — just a sincere commitment to delight their customers using whatever tools were available to them.

As you embark on your next marketing effort, take the time to first look inward and reflect on your existing customer experience. How can you deepen the quality of these encounters and go beyond the transactional? What touches can you employ or encourage to make your current customers feel seen? We don’t have to allow size or scale to limit our capacity to be human.

The front window of La Liles is adorned with handwritten words of encouragement on display for all who pass by. The owner Adelaide, explains “I just wanted to encourage anyone who is having a difficult time and remind them to think positively.”

The front window of Les Liles in Barcelona.

Adelaide understands that her tiny antique shop is so much more than a place to buy treasures from the past. Instead, she treats her business as a vehicle for acts of love and kindness. And there will always be a market for that.

“We must learn to balance the material wonders of technology with the spiritual demands of our human nature.” — John Naisbitt