What’s The One Thing?
I’ve been having a conversation with a good friend. He’s doing a project and has come up with a laundry list of critical issues that have to be addressed. I’ve been advising him to consider, “What’s the one thing?”
His reaction is natural, “It can’t be one thing, it’s all this stuff. We have to pay attention to all this stuff.”
Coming up with lists of all the issues we have to address is central to how most of us address and solve problems. We have to explore, analyze, and think about everything that impacts our ability to achieve our goals.
Most of us, if we are thoughtful, are very good at coming up with these lists of issues. Since we’re action oriented and taught to solve problems, we immediately attack them–we come up with action plans, we start checking off all the issues we have to address and move forward.
Then we usually grind to a halt, we lose steam or, more typically, more issues start popping out of the woodwork. Sometimes, we are overwhelmed with the number of issues, we don’t know where to start. We get discouraged by possible complexity of the issues. Inevitably, our efforts grind to a halt, or we divert our focus to something else—perhaps another list of issues we have to address and resolve.
Sometime, addressing too many issues results in confusion. We are trying to change too many things too fast. We confuse or distract people from the priorities. No one knows what to focus on, where to start. In general, we are very bad trying to focus on too many things at one time, so many change initiatives or programs fail.
If we expect to be successful, we have to figure out, “What’s the one thing?”
As I challenged my friend, he kept responding, “I can’t get it to one thing, it has to be a bunch of them.” I replied (partly because of the joy I got in tormenting him), “No, what’s the one thing?”
Eventually, he came up with it, it was brilliant. In his struggle to come up with the one thing, he was forced to crystallize all the issues, he was forced to understand how they are related, he was forced to look at causal relationships and effects. Most of all he was forced to find clarity–to identify the core issue that drove everything else.
Clarity and simplification is critical to our success in solving very tough problems.
What’s interesting is which “one” sometimes is less important than the process of getting to the “one.”
Getting to one, requires us to think about how each issue is interrelated. It causes us to define them, analyze them, and think, “Where is the best place to start? If I address this issue, does in also solve all the other issues? Do I have to address some issues before others? Which has the greatest impact on what we are trying to achieve?”
If we are doing it for ourselves, “our one thing,” it requires introspection, vicious prioritization, and real focus.
If we are doing it in a team or with our colleagues, it’s very powerful in understanding differing points of view, aligning ourselves and our priorities, and establishing an action plan that we all agree on.
It’s not easy work–which is why too often, organizations don’t do this work and try to attack their laundry list, and then usually fail.
Some people and organizations don’t have the discipline to do the work or they think it slows them down, “After all, we have to address all these issues anyway, why not get started.”
It’s kind of an odd phenomena. Figuring out the one thing bring such great clarity, helps us simplify and focus–and usually allows us to solve everything far more effectively and faster than any other approaches.
So as you look at all the things that impact you and your organization in achieving your goals, first come up with your laundry lists. Then take the time to figure out, “What’s your one thing.”
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