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Antti SuikkanenJan 25, 2023 4:04:50 PM2 min read

Why is it so Hard to Stick to the Basics?

Many leaders tend to focus more on details and fancy stuff than basics or causes. Sticking to the basics can be difficult - to stay focused on the most important tasks when there are many other distractions and competing demands for one's time and attention. Additionally, focusing on the basics may not be as exciting or rewarding as pursuing more flashy or ambitious projects, which can make it harder to stay motivated.


People tend to overestimate their abilities and take on more than they can handle. This can lead to individuals becoming overwhelmed and losing sight of what is most precious.


When the basics are clear and everyone understands them, it is easy to start building more complex tasks.


The army is a good example of this. You first need to know your basic stuff and make your bed the right way at the right time. Be on the spot just in time and know exactly what is expected of you in every phase. When the basics are clear and everyone understands them, it is easy to start building more complex tasks.


The army 1000x1000px


But if on a first day of service, you would deem that I rather use that fancy howitzer than learn the basics, it would be a disaster. A lot of things happen before that gun is ready to fire. In the time it might feel less exciting, but moving and coordinating thousands of people doing excellent work simultaneously demands that the basis are more than well known to everyone.


Do I need to stick with the plan?

Moreover, people may also have a hard time sticking to the basics because of the "sunk cost fallacy" which refers to the tendency to persist in a course of action because of the resources already invested in it, even if the expected return on investment is low. So, an individual may continue to invest time and resources into a project, even if it is unlikely to be successful because they feel that they have already put so much into it.


Instead of focusing on the basics, the focus is building something far too complex.


From our point of view, we see it more with leaders that want to concentrate their time on more ”fancy” KPIs, metrics, and projects, but clearly should be focusing on the basics. Usually, this means that instead of focusing on building know-how, solid organizational structure, clear power, responsibilities, processes, and leadership, the focus is building something far too complex that is not in the best interest of no-one. Otherwise, you will build too complex systems that lack clarity. It is nice to follow complex metrics and KPIs, but can you lead with that? Put complex systems in place when the basics are not even there.


People make things happen

Over and over we hear the same phrases ”We will take new ERP. It will solve our problems of poor quality” or ”We have a new BI tool and over 17 KPIs we follow, every day”. That’s great, but remember that it is people that make this happen, not the fancy metrics.

In summary, sticking to the basics is hard because of various cognitive biases and the competing demands for time and attention, lack of motivation, etc. But next time when building something new and complex, ask yourself – Do we excel in our basics?


Antti Suikkanen

One of the biggest lessons in life I've learned is that being a leader is a job. That's why I'm dedicated to helping leaders succeed in their job by finding critical data about their businesses with digital tools.