The ONE Thing: A book review by Bob Morris

ONE ThingThe ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results
Gary Keller with Jay Papasan
Bard Press (2013)

How and why to select and then do only what is most important while ignoring almost everything else

Up front, I want to acknowledge that I think the word “thing” is worthless. Because it can refer to everything (NOT every thing), it refers to nothing. Think about it: “no thing refers to no thing”? Nonetheless, it remains one of the popular words in the English language. This book and its title offer a case in point.

However, semantics aside, with assistance from Jay Papasan, Gary Keller rigorously examines a very important insight: The sharper the focus of our attention and effort, the bettter the result will be: answering the ONE question, solving the ONE problem, achieving the ONE objective…producing the ONE result… that is MOST IMPORTANT.

When Keller first began to time block, the most effective t**** he did was to put up a sheet of paper that said, “Until My ONE T**** Is Done – Everything Else Is a Distraction!”

These are among the highly informative passages that Keller provides throughout his lively narrative, in addition to a series of effective Figures (not T****s) as well as a “Big Ideas” (not “Big T****s”) section at the conclusion of each chapter:

o Six Lies That Are Barriers to Success (Page 30)
o Extreme Pareto (39-41)
o [Brain] Food for Thought (66-67)
o Counterbalancing – the Long and Short of It, and, Life Is a Balancing Act (79-82)
o Going Big (87-91)
o Life Is a Question, and, Anatomy of the Question, (104-110)
o How to make the ONE T**** strong enough to achieve extraordinary results (117-118)
o How and why the path to a great answer begins with a great question (119-127)
o Happiness On Purpose (139-144)
o How and why lives are driven by the purpose they’re given (147-154)
o Time Blocking (159-170)
o Three Commitments (176-188)
o The three essential commitments to the ONE T**** (175-188)
o The four “thieves” of productivity (190-206)
o How and why success is an “inside job” (214-216)

Keller obviously understands and appreciates the power of metaphors because he makes such effective use of them. The domino, for example, that serves at least two separate but related functions in his skillful hands: as a cause and as an effect. ONE MOST IMPORTANT T**** leads to (enables) another ONE MOST IMPORTANT T****: Do what must be done (if nothing else) today so that you can then do what must be done (if nothing else) tomorrow; only then can you do what must be done (if nothing else) the day after tomorrow. You get the idea. Throughout this process, keep in mind that whatever else can also be done during this hypothetical three-day time frame is probably a distraction.

As I read and then re-read this book prior to composing my review of it, I was reminded again of two quotations. First, from Abraham Lincoln before power saws were available: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Now, from Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.” I agree with Gary Keller that, to achieve extraordinary results, it is imperative to select and then do only what is most important while ignoring almost everything else.

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  1. Jim Roberts on April 6, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    Mr Morris, what are your top 10 business books of all time ?

    • bobmorris on April 6, 2013 at 8:31 pm

      Thank you for inquiring.

      In addition to any book written by Peter Drucker, here are ten of several dozen of my favorites, listed in title alpha order:

      Beyond Performance Measurement (Hope & Player)
      Enterprise Architecture as Strategy (Ross, Weill, and Robertson)
      Freedom, Inc. (Carney & Getz)
      Good to Great (Collins)
      The Marketing Imagination (Levitt)
      The Opposable Mind (Martin)
      Paid to Think (Goldsmith)
      Positioning (Ries & Trout)
      Reality Check (Kawasaki)
      Transforming Performance Measurement (Spitzer)

      If you ask me again in 4-6 weeks, I’ll probably come up with ten others. There are so many I admire.

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