I Learned That Success Comes Easily to You if You Concentrate on Just One Thing

Proof of The One Thing is everywhere. Look closely and you’ll always find it.

One Product, One Service

Extraordinarily successful companies always one product or service they’re most known for or that makes them the most money. Colonel Sanders started KFC with a single secret chicken recipe. The Adoplh Coors Company grew 1,500 percent from 1947 to 1967 with only one product, made in a single brewery. Microprocessors generate the vast majority of Intel’s net revenue. And Starbucks? I think you know.

The list of businesses that have achieved extraordinary results through the power of the One Thing is endless. Somethings what is made or delivered is also what is sold, sometimes not. Take Google. Their One Thing is search, which makes selling advertising, its key source of revenue, possible.

And what about Star Wars? Is the One Thing movies or merchandise? If you guesses merchandise, you’d be right – and you’d be wrong. Revenue from toys recently totaled over $10 billion, while combined worldwide box office revenue for the six main films totaled less than half that, $4.3 billion. From where I sit, movies are the One Thing because they make the toys and products possible.

The answer isn’t always clear, but that doesn’t make finding it any less important. Technological innovations, cultural shifts, and competitive forces will often dictate that a business’s One Thing evolve or transform. The most successful companies know this and are always asking: “What’s our One Thing?”

Apple is a study in creating an environment where an extraordinary One Thing can exist while transitioning to another extraordinary One Thing. From 1998 to 2012, Apple’s One Thing moved from Macs to iMacs to iTunes to iPods to iPhones, with the iPad already jockeying for the pole position at the head of the product line. As each new “golden gadget” entered the limelight, the other products weren’t discontinued or relegated to the discount tables. Those lines, plus others, continued to be refined while the current One Thing created a well-documented halo effect, making the user more likely to adopt the whole Apple product family.

When you get the One Thing, you begin to see the business world differently. If today your company doesn’t know what its One Thing is , then the company’s One Thing is to find out.

One Person

The One Thing is a dominant theme that shows up in different ways. Take the concept and apply it to people, and you’ll see where one person makes all the difference. As a freshman in high school, Walt Disney took night courses at the Chicago Art Institute and became the cartoonist for his school newspaper.

After graduation, he wanted to be newspaper cartoonist but couldn’t get a job, so his brother Roy, a businessman and a banker, got him work at an art studio. It was there he learned animation and began creating animated cartoons. When Walt was young, his one person was Roy.

For Sam Walton, early on it was L.S.Robson, his father-in-law, who loaned him the $20,000 he needed to start his first retail business, a Ben Franklin franchise store. Then, when Sam was opening his first Wal-Mart, Robson secretly paid a landlord $20,000 to provide pivotal expansion lease.

Albert Einstein had Max Talmud, his first mentor. It was Max who introduced a ten-year-old Einstein to key texts in match, science, and philosophy. Max took one meal a week with the Einstein family for six years while guiding young Albert.

No one is self-made.

Oprah Winfrey credits her father, and the time she spent with him and his wife, for “saving” her. She told Jill Nelson of The Washington Post Magazine, “If I hadn’t been sent to my father, I would have gone in another direction.”

Professionally, it started with Jeffery D.Jacobs, the “lawyer, agent, manager and financial adviser” who, when Oprah was looking for employment contract advice, persuaded her to establish her own company rather than simply be a talent for hire. Harpo Productions Inc. was born.

The world is familiar with the influence that John Lenon and Paul McCartney had one each other’s songwriting success, but in the recording studio there was George Martin. Considered one of the greatest record producers of all time, George has often been referred to as the “Fifth Beatle” his extensive involvement in Beatles’ original albums. Martin’s musical expertise helped fill the gaps between the Beatle’s raw talent and the sound they wanted to achieve. Most of the Beatles’ orchestral arrangements and instrumentation, as well as numerous keyboard parts on the early records, were written or performed by Martin in collaboration with the band.

Everyone has one person who either means the most to them or was the first to influence, train, or manage them.

No one succeeds alone. No one.

One Person, One Skill

Look behind any story of extraordinary success and the One Thing is always there. It shows up in the life of any successful business and in the professional life of anyone successful. It also shows up around personal passions and skills. We each have passions and skills, but you’ll see extraordinarily successful people with one intense emotion or one learned ability that shines through, defining them or driving them more than anything else.

Often, the line between passion and skill can be blurry. That’s because they’re almost always connected. Pat Matthews, one of America’s great impressionist painters, says he turned his passion for painting into a skill, and ultimately a profession, by simply painting one painting a day. Angelo Amorico,  Italy’s most successful tour guide says he developed his skills and ultimately his business from his singular passion for his country and the deep desire to share it with others.

This is the story line or extraordinary success stories.

Passion for something leads to disproportionate time practicing or working at it. That time spent eventually translates to skill, and when skill improves, results improve. Better results generally lead to more enjoyment, and more passion and more time is invested. It can be virtuous cycle all the way to extraordinary results.

Gilbert Tuhabonye’s one passion is running. Gilbert is an American long-distance runner born in Songa, Burundi, whose early love of track and field helped him win the Burundi National Championship in the men’s 400 and 800 meters while only  a junior in high school. This passion helped save his life.

On October 21, 1993, members of the Hutu tribe invaded Gilbert’s high school and captured the students of the Tutsi tribe. Those not immediately killed were beaten and burned alive in nearby building. After nine hours buried beneath burning bodies, Gilbert managed to escape and outrun his captors to the safety of a nearby hospital. He was the lone survivor.

He came to Texas and kept competing, honing his skills. Recruited by Abilene Christian University, Gilbert earned All-America honors six times. After graduation he moved to Austin, where by all accounts he is the most popular running coach in the city. To drill for water in Burundi, he confounded the Gazelle Foundation, whose main fundraiser is – wait for it – “Run for the Water,” a sponsored run through the streets of Austin. Do you see the theme running through his life?

From competitor to survivor, from college to career to charity, Gilbert Tuhabonye’s passion for running became a skill that led to a profession that opened up an opportunity to give back. The smile he greets fellow  runners with one the trails around Austin’s Lady Bird Lake symbolizes how one passion can become one skill, and together ignite and define an extraordinary life.

The One Thing shows up time and again in the lives of the successful because it’s a fundamental truth. It showed up for me, and if you let it, it will show up for you. Applying the One Thing to your work – and in your life – is the simplest and smartest thing you can do to propel yourself toward the success you want.

One Life

If I had to choose only one example of someone who has harnessed the One Thing to build an extraordinary life, it would be American businessman Bill Gates. Bill’s one passion in high school was computers, which led him to develop one skill, computer programming. While in  high school he met his partner in forming Microsoft. This happened as the result of one letter they sent to one person, Ed Roberts, who changed their lives forever by giving them a shot at writing the code for one computer, the Altair 8800 – and they needed only one shot. Microsoft began its life to do one thing, develop and sell BASIC interpreters for the Altair 8800, which eventually would make Bill Gates the riches man in the world for 15 straight years.

When he retired from Microsoft, Bill chose one person to replace him as CEO – Steve Ballmer, whom he met in college. By the way, Steve was Microsoft’s 30th employee but the first business manager hired Bill. And the story doesn’t end here.

Bill and Melinda Gates decided to put their wealth to work making a difference in the world. Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, they formed one foundation to do One Thing: to tackle “really tough problems” like health and education.

Since its inception, the majority of the foundation’s grants have gone to one area, Bill and Melinda’s Global Health Program. This ambitious program’s one goal is to harness advances in science and technology to save lives in poor countries. To do this they eventually settled on one thing – stamp out infectious disease as a major cause of death in their lifetime. At some point in their journey, they made a decision to focus on one thing thing that would do this – vaccines.

Bill explained the decision by saying, “We had to choose what the most impactful thing to give would be ….The magic tool of health intervention is vaccines, because they can be made inexpensively.”

A singular line of questioning led them down this one path when Melinda asked, “Where’s the place you can have the biggest impact with the money?” Bill and Melinda Gates are living proof of the power of the One Thing.

One Thing

The doors to the world have been flung wide open, and the view that’s available is staggering. Through technology and innovation, opportunities abound and possibilities seem endless. As inspiring as this can be, it can be equally over-whelming. The unintended consequence of abundance is that we are bombarded with more information and choices in a day than our ancestors received in a lifetime. Harried and hurried, a nagging sense that we attempt too much and accomplish too little haunts our days.

We sense intuitively that the path to more is through less, but the question is, Where to begin? From all that life has to offer, how do you choose? How do you make the best decisions possible, experience life at an extraordinary level, and never look back?

Live the One Thing.

What Curly knew, all successful people know. The One Thing sits at the heart of success and is the starting point for achieving extraordinary results. Based on research and rel-life experience, it’s a big idea about success wrapped in a disarmingly simple package. Explaining it is easy; buying into it can be tough.

So, before we can have a frank , heart-to-heart discussion about how the One Thing actually works, I want to openly discuss the myths and misinformation that keep us from accepting it. They are the lies of success.

Once we banish these from our minds, we can take up the One Thing with an open mind and a clear path.