19 March 2016

Review: "The One Thing" by Garry Keller with Jay Papasan

"If disproportionate results come from one activity, then you must give that one activity disproportionate time."
This is just one of many enlightening proverbs in this eminently quotable self-help book by Garry Keller. To me, it captures the essence of what the author tries to convey best.

A quick side-note on the book's layout: There is underlining made by the author, numerous illustrations, and various historical quotes sprinkled throughout. While I appreciate the effort, I could've done without Keller marking up the points he thinks are most important. The quote at the beginning of this review for example wasn't.

In a brief backstory, Keller describes how, by just focussing on one thing, he was able to move his company out of economic stagnation. He resigned as CEO and spent the better part of a year seeking and appointing fourteen new people at key positions in his company. Success followed. In their weekly meetings he would go through the tasks each of them would have to accomplish come next week. When some got done and others fell to the wayside, out of frustration, he started to continually subtract tasks from the list until he just asked them to focus exclusively on the single task that mattered most. And Success went through the roof.
With regard to the last book I read—Gary Paulsen's 'Hatchet'—that protagonist's One Thing was the acquisition of food, for it was the most important thing upon which all other aspects of his life rested. And as he improved in it, surviving the wilderness got easier and life comparatively more comfortable.
Throughout the book, Keller uses a domino motif to visualise this concept. One domino has the energy potential to knock over another domino piece up to 50% bigger in size. Success, he writes, comes by focussing on The One Thing by breaking down your goal in manageable chunks and taking action sequentially, one thing at a time. Thus, knocking over a single domino, one after another, we can progressively go beyond what we deem achievable. If we leave ourselves open to new models and approaches, we will get better at the One Thing we are doing in repetition. As the author puts it: think big, go small.
Reality proves him right. I consider myself a decent artist. Objectively speaking, I am more proficient at the craft than most people I meet in real-life. People are constantly asking me how I have achieved this skill, because I make it seem so effortless. Of course nothing could be further from the truth! From kindergarten-age on, I spent most of my free-time drawing. Observing, drawing, learning, improving. Crashing through plateaus by always thinking about the next step I could take. This passion burnt so feverishly, that I missed out on many formative teenage experiences, simply because it was The One Thing that was most important to me. For my age back then, I got good. Real good. Then I stopped. Why? With my career slowly steering into graphic design, this became the focal point of my attention for the decade to follow. Drawing became just another thing I was interested in. As a result, I stagnated and didn't improve nearly at the pace I used to. Had I stuck to it, I am confident that I would have reached mastery. But the point is, I didn't. I stretched myself thin and let other interests distract me. By saying yes to everything, in conclusion I said yes to nothing.

Typical for books in this genre, the author doesn't even get to the meat of The One Thing before slaying his share of dragons in the opening chapters. He takes popular myths, such as multitasking, equality, and the balanced life, to task and through history, research, and personal experience exposes them for the lies that they are. All throughout these first chapters, I couldn't help but nod in agreement. After going through the lies, he shares with us the truth, which is the One Thing and how it inevitably leads to success. By asking the so-called "focussing question", your seemingly unattainable goal will come increasingly closer. And to make all of it work, your One Thing needs to have a purpose, which is carried by priority and productivity. The book of course goes into greater detail, never waxing the philosophical for too long. Before rounding the book out with examples of how to apply The One Thing in all areas of life, be it personal or professional, Keller proposes a daily minimum of 4 hours to be spent exclusively working on The One Thing and how to avoid the biggest pitfalls in doing so. Seems exorbitant? So will be the reward.

I admit, I am predisposed to like this book. It hammers a point home I was already willing to accept as mantra. Luckily, the author goes beyond that. The core concept of the book is a simple one, but Keller takes great measures to show you why it is the best one. And with the help of this book, I can now veer back into drawing, to become the master illustrator of my childhood dreams. One step at a time.

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