THE BLOG
08/13/2013 11:06 am ET | Updated Oct 13, 2013

The ONE Thing

I've always been a big fan of efficiency and there's little I like less than unnecessary complexity, time-wasting or divergence. I guess that's why I picked up Gary Keller and Jay Papasan's bestselling new book The ONE Thing on a recent sweep of the local bookshop. That and the authors' claim to have uncovered 'the surprisingly simple truth behind extraordinary results'.

Their central hypothesis is that, in a world of complexity and information overload, the trick to success is a single-minded focus on one thing and making sure that you do this one thing exceptionally well. I can really relate to this philosophy and think that the world would benefit from more people who are single-minded, as opposed to the dominant institutional perspective that multitasking is something to be applauded. To support their assertions, the authors reference the work of Stanford Professor Clifford Nass, who in 2009 set out to find out how well so-called 'multitaskers' actually multitasked. His original hypothesis was that multitaskers had some kind of a secret ability. Instead, he concluded that 'multitaskers are suckers for irrelevancy', his research suggesting that 'multitaskers were just lousy at everything.'

The opposite of multitasking, single-mindedness, can of course be incredibly irritating, and like any idea if taken to the extreme will cause all manner of problems. But the takeaway for me -- which doesn't necessarily require reading the whole book -0 is that focus is a transformational strategy that is under-utilized. Not all issues matter equally and most are interrelated. Find the source issue and you can save yourself a whole lot of work. The authors suggest that more time should be put into asking yourself: what's the one thing that I can do, such that by doing it, everything else will either be easier or unnecessary? By focusing on one thing, they claim you can do more by doing less. They suggest that this philosophy should be bought to life in your agenda by dedicating every morning to doing that one thing, and then clustering all other meetings and activities towards the end of the day.

I think this idea has its limits, and at a senior level I'm a big advocate of the need to have 360 vision, because most challenges and opportunities for a business tend to come from the periphery. If you are just focused on one thing, and don't have flexibility to adapt, then you may find yourself going down the wrong road. That said, if you're always 'tilting at windmills' then, like Don Quixote, you may find yourself somewhat distracted. Clearly there is a happy medium.

The other thing that interests me about the book is the way that its findings -- which are largely focused on individuals -- mirror my own perspective on corporate reputational theory. The majority of businesses that you will find listed on most-admired lists globally tend to be known particularly for a surprisingly small number of things, whether that's specific responsibility programmes, partnerships, approaches towards people management, innovation, long-term investment, use of assets, competitiveness, or quality processes. Many other businesses do great work in all of these categories, but often don't get the reputational credit they deserve because they have no focus or common thread to bring together their activities. Their more successful reputational peers may also have many activities under their belt, but they present themselves as having an unrelenting focus on a small number of things that they are known for, driving distinctiveness and memorability.