The incident recounted below is from the story of the development of the 4004 microprocessor (which was the first commercially available microprocessor). Hoff and Shima played important roles in the development of the chip.
I am not sure that the main “lesson” from the incident is about the importance of details. (After all, many entrepreneurs, including Simplot, embark on big projects without a clear idea of how to accomplish the details.) A bigger and sounder lesson may be the usefulness of resilience for successful inventors and entrepreneurs.
(p. 104) Hoff’s counterpart at Busicom was a young Japanese named Masatoshi Shima who also had been thinking about problems of computer architecture. An equally formidable intellect, Shima came to the project through a series of accidents, beginning with a misbegotten effort to launch a small rocket using gunpowder he made by hand in his high school chemistry laboratory. As he carefully followed the formula, he claims to have had the mixture exactly right, except for some details that he overlooked. The mixture exploded, and as he pulled away his right hand, it seemed a bloody stump. At the local hospital (p. 105) a doctor with wide experience treating combat wounds felt lucky to save the boy’s thumb alone,
This ordeal taught the teen-aged Shima that “details are very important.” In the future he should “pay attention to all the details.” But the loss of his fingers convinced his parents–and later several key Japanese companies–that the boy should not become a chemical engineer, even though he had won his degree in chemical engineering. Thus Shima ended up at Busicom chiefly because it was run by a friend of one of his professors.
Gilder, George. Microcosm: The Quantum Revolution in Economics and Technology. Paperback ed. New York: Touchstone, 1990.