Less … is more. How the pursuit of less helps weekly goal setting.

less is more

Weekly goal setting by successful people and successful organisations. How do they do it? Why is it that successful doesn’t become very succesful automatically? Greg McKeown explains this with the “clarity parardox”.

The clarity paradox

The clarity paradox is a vicious circle with 4 phases that goes like this:

1: When we really have clarity of purpose, it leads to success.
2: Success leads to more options and opportunities.
3: When we have increased options and opportunities, it leads to diffused efforts.
4: Diffused efforts undermine the very clarity that led to our success in the first place.

In other words, success is a catalyst for failure. Strange?

Look at the companies that fall from grace and collapse. Remember MCI Worldcom? Enron? Jim Collins wrote about it in “How the mighty fall”. He found that one of the key reasons for these failures was “the undisciplined pursuit of more”. And guess what, it’s not just true for companies. It is true for careers and life in general as well. Saying no to many good (the enemy of great, remember) paths you encounter, is most important.

How to avoid the paradox

Greg McKeown offers three ideas to avoid his clarity paradox, and continue the momentum of success:

1. be more extreme in your criteria

Look at your wardrobe. Instead of asking “is there a chance that I will wear this again?”, ask yourself “do I ABSOLUTELY” love this? You will surely be taking clutter out and have space for something better. The same applies for your career choices. McKeown uses the metaphor of a search engine for the brain. Use the “advanced search option” and ask three questions: a. what am I passionate about? b. what taps my talent? c. what is a significant need in the world? Where these 3 questions intersect, is where you want to be.

intersection of talent, market, passion

2. Ask “what is essential?” and eliminate the rest.

  • Think about your life up till now. Your desk gets cluttered without you even trying. Same goes for human systems. Our lives get cluttered as well-intended ideas from the past pile up. The problem often is that there is no expiration date on these ideas. On the contrary, they can live on in perpetuity. Figure out which ideas from the past are important and pursue those. Throw out the rest.
  • Eliminate an old activity before you add a new one. Don’t add an activity that is less valuable than something you are already doing. Think about your weekly goal setting in this context. It may be one of the most valuable tips of this blog.

3. Beware of the endowment effect.

The what? We have a tendency to value an item more once we own it. In a study objects like coffee mugs were randomly given to half the subjects, while the other half were given pens of equal value. There is a traditional economic theory (the Coase Theorem) that says that about half of the people with mugs and half of the people with pens will trade. But in the study they found that significantly fewer than 50% actually traded. The mere fact of ownership made them less willing to part with their own objects. Think about your own life, how a book on your shelf that you haven’t used in years seems to increase in value the moment you think about giving it away.

The pursuit of less

Tom Stafford describes a cure for this that we can apply to career clarity: Instead of asking, “How much do I value this item?” we should ask “If I did not own this item, how much would I pay to obtain it?” And the same goes for career opportunities. We shouldn’t ask, “How much do I value this opportunity?” but “If I did not have this opportunity, how much would I be willing to sacrifice in order to obtain it?”

If success is a catalyst for failure because it leads to the “undisciplined pursuit of more,” then one simple antidote is the disciplined pursuit of less. Not just haphazardly saying no, but purposefully, deliberately, and strategically eliminating the nonessentials. Constantly reducing, focusing and simplifying, not just once a year as part of a planning meeting, but. Not just getting rid of the obvious time wasters, but being willing to cut out really terrific opportunities as well. Few appear to have the courage to live this principle, which may be why it differentiates successful people and organizations from the very successful ones.

Using MyBig5 software, keep this in mind for your weekly goal setting : aim for those things that are essential to you, to your team, to your company. If you have not yet tried our software, give it a go. It’s free for 2 weeks, and if your company has less than 4 employees, it’s free for life.

inspired by “Essentialism: the disciplined pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown

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