Focus On What’s Working

“Know thine opportunity.” – Pittacus (7th-6th century B.C.)

JT and KR have a $15 million business, dozens of employees, four big products, and way too many things to do each day.

In a meeting yesterday, we spent a good half-hour talking about what was wrong with some of the products — how they could be improved. It was a good and serious conversation, and many true and insightful comments were made. But just before the meeting adjourned, BS suggested that we had forgotten the most important thing. The most important thing, it turned out, was not the 152 things that could be done better but the one thing that was being done very well.

“If I were you,” he said, “I’d spend most of my time and energy rolling out that one good thing — not worrying so much about the many smaller things that are wrong.”

BS was right. Although you must never cease to eliminate mistakes and strengthen your weaknesses, the most powerful thing you can do to improve your business is to do much more of what you do well.

This idea is a close cousin to the concept of “the myth of excellence” (Message #496): that businesses are generally better off trying to be excellent in only one thing rather than very good in everything.

When I think back on the big successes I’ve enjoyed in my career, it occurs to me that they were almost all rollouts of “things that were working.”

If you have 10 ways to sell soap, focus most of your energy on selling more of it best way instead of trying to sell it the other nine ways as well. If you market your product primarily by phone and less so by e-mail, print advertising, and direct mail, put most of your efforts into more phone work.

The big spikes come from jumping on great promotions in hot markets, not from incrementally improving everything that’s just so-so.

Of everything you are doing now — and this applies as much to your personal life as to your career — identify the one thing you do really well and promise yourself you’ll do more of it.

If you do that first and foremost — you can still find time to fix what’s broken. Start with the most severely broken piece and try to make it not excellent but good.

But first, focus on what’s working.