Book Review: The ONE Thing – The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results

The One Thing copy

I am strongly recommending this excellent book to my Vistage clients and strategic business planning groups. Here is a summary which I used for my regular Business Conversations.

The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan. Bard Press.

Introduction :- The simple truth about extraordinary results is: “If you chase two rabbits you will not catch either”.

What is the one thing you can do this week that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?

Where one achieves great success is where the concentration is narrowed to ONE THING.

In other words “Go Small” by ignoring all the things you could do and doing what you should. Extraordinary results are directly determined by the narrowness of your focus.

The Domino Effect :- The world record domino chain is 4.5 million dominos releasing 94 000 joules of energy. All from one small domino. Toppling dominoes is relatively simple, but in terms of our everyday issues: Find the lead domino and when it falls the others will follow. The key is that over time success is built sequentially – one thing at a time.

Clues of Success :- Most excellent companies have one product or service they are known for i.e. KFC, Apple etc.

If you don’t know your ONE THING the ONE THING is to determine what it is.

The same applies to people i.e. Walt Disney, Bill Gates, Sam Walton (Walmart), Oprah. And all of them had a coach who either means lots to them or can influence, train or manage. No one succeeds alone.

Success, either for individuals or organizations, demands singleness of PURPOSE. The ONE THING is at the heart of success and the starting point for achieving extraordinary results .


The ONE THING becomes difficult because we become sidetracked by many other issues which confuse our thinking, misguide our actions and sidetrack our success.

There are six “lies” which intrude to hamper successful focus :-

1. Everything matters equally.

2. Multitasking.

3. A disciplined life.

4. Willpower sidetracked.

5. A balanced life.

6. Big is Bad.

Everything matters equally :- Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least. When everything feels important and urgent, everything seems equal. We are active and busy but busy-ness does not move us towards success. The things which are most important don’t always scream the loudest. Achievers always work from a clear sense of priority – not a to-do list with lots of trivia. Doing the most important thing is always the most important thing.

Pareto Rule :- The Pareto Rule (80 / 20 principle) is not just a theory – it is a provable, predictable certainty and one of the best productivity truths. It suggests that a minority of inputs or effort produce the majority of the results. Selected effort creates most of the result. And if we take Pareto further and take the 20% of the 20 % etc and focus on the issue, it optimises the Pareto principle.

Multitasking :- To do two things at once is to do neither. It has been proven scientifically that multitasking is much less effective and efficient than focused activity. Multitasking is the opportunity to screw up more than one thing at a time.

  • Distraction is normal – accept it.
  • Multitasking leads to mistakes and poor results.
  • Undivided attention on the important issue is the key to successful implementation.

Disciplined Life :- We don’t need a more disciplined approach; we need to manage discipline effectively. You can become successful with less discipline than expected because success is about doing THE right thing not doing everything right.

  • Be a person of powerful habits and use selected discipline to develop them.

Willpower :- Odysseus understood how weak willpower is when he instructed his crew to bind him to the mast as they sailed past the seductive sirens. Willpower is not always on call. We have a limited supply of willpower. Eat right and regularly – feed the brain. Remember that the brain consumes more than 20% of our inputs even though it is only 2% of our body mass. Do important matters first each day when willpower is strongest.

Balanced Life :- When we try to balance everything, it all gets short-changed and nothing gets its due. To achieve an extraordinary result we must select what matters most and give it due time and focus. As a consequence we will be out of balance.

Choosing what matters most and giving it as much time as it demands necessitates getting extremely out of balance in relation to all other work issues. It is therefore also essential to counterbalance work and life issues.


Big is Bad :- We are kept from our goal not by obstacles but by a clear path to a lesser goal. Big and results together are daunting prospects. When Big is Bad small thinking rules. Thinking Big is essential for great results. Big thinking produces big results.

Success requires acting appropriately in the moments of your life that matter i.e. This is where I’m meant to be right now, doing exactly what I’m doing. And the ONE THING is the simple truth behind extraordinary results.

The Focusing Question :- Our goal is to determine the ONE THING or the first step towards the ONE THING. To achieve this we need to ask focusing questions. Questions are more important than answers. How we phrase questions we ask ourselves determines the answers that develop our life . “What is the ONE THING I can do that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary ?” As an extension – what is my ONE BIG THING – what is my ONE THING right now?

“The One Thing” forces you to be specific and says “Can Do”.

“By doing it” means it is a “biggie” and worthwhile.

“Everything easier” means everything falls into place.

Once we ask the crucial question we can then achieve a great answer.

The Success Habit :- We all develop habits – good, bad or otherwise. But we need to form habits that enable us to achieve our goals – hence the focusing question. Apply it to all areas of your life – Spiritual, Physical, Personal, Relationships, Jobs, Business, Finances, etc.

Extraordinary Results :- The simple formula for implementing the ONE THING and achieving extraordinary results : Purpose, Priority and Productivity.

Allow Purpose to be the guiding force in determining the priority that drives actions and productivity as the consequence. With the additional outcome of profit, it’s the same for business. What’s visible – productivity and profit is always supported by priority and purpose. Great businesses are built one productive person or business unit at a time. Understanding this critical connection is the cornerstone of producing extraordinary results.

Live with Purpose :- Life is a series of connected choices where our purpose enables us to set our priority which in turn determines the productivity of our actions.

Our purpose can be defined as “Who we are and where we want to go and in turn determine what we do and our accomplishments”. Most people want happiness from their lives, and happiness is the consequence of successful fulfillment.

It is purported that there are five key factors which contribute to happiness :-

  • Positive emotion and pleasure
  • Achievement
  • Relationships
  • Engagement and
  • Meaning

Being engaged in what we do so as to make our life more meaningful is a sure way to lasting happiness. When our actions fulfill a larger purpose, enduring happiness can occur.

Purpose is the most direct path to power and the ultimate source of personal strength of conviction and perseverance. It provides clarity, direction and better, faster decision making which in turn produces the best outcomes and experiences.

Understanding that ONE THING creates the clarity to bring purpose and direction to every facet of our lives and business.

Live by using priority :- Live with purpose and you establish where you want to go.

Live by priority and you’ll know what to do to get there. Priority is the difference between “what shall I do” and “what should I do” – chalk and cheese. The latter leads you to where you “must go” not where you “might go”. Remember Alice in Wonderland meeting the Cheshire Cat ?

Why do we set goals and create plans ? To take appropriate action when it matters so that we have the greatest chance of success in achieving that purpose or ONE THING.

Keller recommends goal setting to the NOW. When you set a future goal, drill down to determine what you should be doing now to help get you there i.e. your ONE THING now to move you towards your future ONE THING. We should train our minds how to think and plan, by connecting one important thing / step now which will move us towards our goal. Connect the today goal with the tomorrow steps necessary to achieve the goal.

Productivity :- Productive action is transforming. Extraordinary results requires getting the most out of what we do, when what we do matters.

Productive people get more done, achieve better results and produce more benefits for themselves and / or their organizations. So time block your one thing. Time blocking necessitates allocating quality, uninterrupted chunks of time (say 2 – 4 hours) to work assiduously on that critical ONE THING.

Productivity is not working more hours – it is achieving more in the hours we work.

So to enhance productivity :-

  1. Create a mindset of excellence in doing your best.
  2. Move from “E” to “P” – ideas to performance.
  3. Be accountable for results.
  • Effectively this requires work to develop that excellence or mastery. It takes time and effort à la the 10 000 hours.
  • Basically moving from the Entrepreneurial space to Purposeful or Productive. This requires focus, systems dedication and application.
  • The connection between what we do and what we achieve are actions which produce the desired outcomes and then outcomes impact actions – it is the accountability loop.

It necessitates :-

  • Seeking reality.
  • Acknowledge reality.
  • Own the activity.
  • Work on / find solutions.
  • Get on with it.

Find a coach; it is difficult to achieve extraordinary results without one.

And focus – which requires deciding what to do and what not to do.

In conclusion: To get through the hardest journey we need only take one step at a time but we must keep on stepping.

Now let’s put it into practice in every facet of our lives – personal, family, occupation or job, the workplace and any other important area.

** This book has won 12 book awards, has been translated into 24 languages, chosen as one of the Top 5 Business Books of 2013 by Hudson’s Booksellers and one of Top 30 Business Books of 2013 by Executive Book Summaries.

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