book cover of the one thing by gary keller

What's Your ONE THING?

coaching management strategy

You've no doubt read, from me and other business authors how important it is to be able to focus on the relatively few things that matter most to your success.

I have gone further and for over two decades have maintained that "focus" is the single MOST important word in business, especially for those running small businesses. In order to focus on what matters, you must also simplify and get rid of the unnecessary complexity. You can’t focus if you’re operating in a complex environment and trying to multitask.

The ability to focus inevitably leads to operating a simpler business and only simple businesses will succeed. Being super busy and always on the go may satisfy some entrepreneurial stereotype you crave, but to me it just means you haven't figured out what truly matters most.

On the subject of simplification:

  • I wrote an entire chapter in my “8 Steps” book with the title, “Doing Less, Making More,” directly correlating simplicity to profits;
  • Steve Jobs was famous for simplifying, cutting Apple’s product line from over 40 products to just 4 after he returned as CEO to save the company from bankruptcy;
  • Thoreau gave us the words to live by: “Simplify, simplify.”
  • My ActionMaps Strategic Framework is predicated on the fact that you simply cannot master more than five key skill sets...and even five may be too many.
  • One of my most often recommended books, Rework by Jason Fried, argues that we shouldn’t even attempt to accomplish more than three things a day!

“If you chase two rabbits, you will catch neither.”

(Russian proverb)

Taken to the next level, we all know that we should find what’s most important to our business success and do that. No matter how hard it is, we know that we must accept the tradeoffs by saying “No” to many other things, some of which might be quite worthwhile. Just not AS WORTHWHILE as the ONE THING.

So, sure. . . at a 10,000-foot view, we all know that we should focus on just one thing, but what? That’s where the breakdown often comes. We think the ONE THING changes when it doesn’t. What changes is that we get to the office and don’t feel like doing A, so we do B. But if B is not the ONE THING, then we’re hurting ourselves, we’re delaying or denying our greatest goals.

You’ve got to find the ONE THING and find it right now!

In the book, The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller, founder of Keller Williams Realty, Inc., we are introduced to a profound question that made me stop in my tracks. I already know that questions (far more than answers) are the key to developing winning strategies. So, I have already asked countless questions of you such as, “What are you the best in the world at?”

But sometimes just a single twist or change in the word order of a question can make all the difference, and to me, that’s what Keller did when, as the central theme of his book, he posited this question:

What’s the ONE thing you can do, such that by doing it,
everything else would be easier or unnecessary?

Keller makes the point that seems rather obvious (but which I’ve not seen before) that those who constantly get more done than others, those who have more time, and those who achieve more and earn more, only do so because at some point in time, they made “easier or unnecessary” those things that others still wrestle with!

How do those high achievers do it? In Keller’s view, they “go small!” They constantly test just how narrow they can make their focus. Going small is ignoring all the things you could do, and doing only those that you should do.

Most people think just the opposite. They think big success is time-consuming and complicated. As a result, their calendars and to-do lists become overloaded and overwhelming. Unaware that big success comes when we do a few things well, they get lost trying to do too much and in the end, accomplish too little.

As one of my coaching clients said, "The flurry becomes the reality." 

Keep in mind that Keller, the author of "The One Thing, built a giant real estate company! Small works at all levels.

But we can only risk going small and focusing on only ONE THING, if we’re sure that we’ve found the right ONE THING! I’ll come back to this, but let’s leap ahead and see what can happen if we begin with the right one thing and focus exclusively on that.

First, Keller cites an experiment from 1983 in which Lorne Whitehead wrote in the American Journal of Physics that a single domino can actually topple a domino that is 50% larger. This sets up a geometric progression where, even if the first domino is just 2” tall, the 8th domino to fall in that sequence can be almost three feet tall!

The 10th domino would be as tall as an NFL quarterback, the 23rd as tall as the Eiffel Tower, and the 31st 3,000 feet taller than Mount Everest. The 57th would almost reach the moon."

To help you answer this critical question, I have taken the liberty of rephrasing it. I find it extremely helpful to occasionally take ourselves back in time, as opposed to always imagining some rosy future.

What’s the ONE thing that IF you had done it 3, 5 or 10
years ago, would have made everything you have to
do today easier or unnecessary?

I’m not saying that the answer to what you might have done in the past will reveal what you should do in the future. They may be completely different. But, I think it will help reveal how powerful some actions you put into place with small steps years ago might have become.

For example, what if 3, 5 or 10 years ago you had:

  • Taken on a partner
  • Opened a branch office
  • Started a retail store
  • Purchased your office space
  • Committed to social media
  • Not committed to social media
  • Hired a PR firm
  • Mastered AutoCAD or other software tools
  • Outsourced X, Y, or Z
  • Charged 20% more
  • Focused on kitchens or some other specialty
  • Pursued more commercial design
  • And on and on and on...

Extend this exercise to the concept of 57 dominoes and the first small ONE THING domino that you chose to focus on first, could have progressively toppled larger and larger ones that would almost reach the moon. Notice that the researcher is carefully focusing on just the first small domino, his ONE THING!

I encourage you to read Keller's book, and even more, I encourage you to think long and hard about what your ONE THING is. Discovering that will at once simplify your business and rapidly increase the pace of growth for your firm.

And if, as Keller notes, you just can't think of that ONE THING...then your ONE THING is to figure out what your ONE THING is.


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