The Power of Small: Why Little Things Make All the Difference
by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval

You may not be familiar with their names, but you are probably familiar with the authors’ work. They are the founding partners of the Kaplan Thaler Group, the advertising agency responsible for the Aflac duck campaign. One of them wrote the “I want to be a Toys R Us Kid” jingle earlier in her career. Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval previously wrote The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World With Kindness.

This book is about paying attention to little things which have a big impact.

“Small talk is the social lubricant that brings people together… And we can profit from the experience in surprising ways… For example, at Kaplan Thaler, we often find our best clues to what a client may like or dislike during the small talk before we sit down to a formal meeting… Our point: Small talk is anything but idle chatter. In fact, it’s the glue that cements so many relationships… Yet when we make small talk, too many of us tend to turn the subject of the conversation quickly back to ourselves, a subject infinitely less interesting to the other person.”

Another topic is the importance of humor. “It turns out that kidding around at the beginning of a meeting is one of the most productive things you can do. Seriously. Chris Robert, a psychologist at the University of Missouri, found that humor in the workplace enhances creativity and job performance. We have noticed this at our agency as well. We begin every creative brainstorming session for a new ad campaign with light banter, or a joke or two. It helps relax the team and brings the stress level in the room down a notch. After all, just try being creative and freewheeling in your thinking when you feel pressured and tense.”

There is a chapter called Go the Extra Inch, “that little thing you do that is special and shows what makes you different, what sets you apart from somebody else. It is often the small act that shows you care, that proves the project or other person matters to you. It affords you a chance to show off you initiative. This can be especially important when you’re meeting someone for the first time.”

Kaplan Thaler and Koval reinforce what other authors have written about the delusion of multitasking.  “We may be the first generation to find that more information is actually making us dumber, and less productive.” The proliferation of digital devices “thwarts our best intentions to focus on and complete the job at hand—much less overdeliver… By not fully paying attention to the other person and his or her needs, we deny ourselves the opportunity to create empathy and an emotional attachment with the other person.” When sending email, “we abide by the ‘Read twice, send once’ rule.”

The book cites research by British psychologist Guy Claxton. “What Claxton calls ‘unconscious intelligence’ comes about when we hit our mental pause buttons. That’s when our brains recognize patterns, or connect the dots, to make sense out of complex situations. It gives meaning to things that may not yet be able to be clearly articulated. When that information does find its way to our conscious minds, it’s often in the form of one of those ‘a-ha!’ moments.”

Another aspect of the power of small is our approach to achieving challenging goals. The book includes examples of how a marathon runner and an animal trainer focus on achievable stages. On a related note, they suggest this advice to parents: “Instead of telling your offspring that they are smart or talented, compliment them on trying hard. This small shift in attitude can have a big impact on how kids approach challenges later on.”

Let’s close with the importance of expressing gratitude. As first-class mail volume dwindles, “people are all the more surprised and delighted when a handwritten note does appear in the mailbox. If you want to make a positive impression, take the few extra minutes to pick up a pen and write a note. You’re more likely to become memorable instead of merely deleted.” Thanks for reading this review.

Thaler, Linda, and Robin Koval. The Power of Small: Why Little Things Make All the Difference. New York: Broadway Books, 2009. Buy from

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