Greg McKeown: “Essentialism” | Talks at Google

Greg McKeown: “Essentialism” | Talks at Google


ALANA WEISS: Welcome, everyone. Good afternoon. My name is Alana Weiss. And today, it is my
pleasure to welcome Greg McKeown to the
Authors at Google series. Greg was here in 2010,
on his book “Multipliers. How the Best Leaders
Make Everyone Smarter.” And today, he’s here to
present on “Essentialism. The Disciplined
Pursuit of Less.” Please join me in
welcoming Greg. [APPLAUSE] GREG MCKEOWN: Thank you
so much for having me. It’s just a thrill to be with
Google, and to have all of you come and join us. So 15 years ago, and I might
need a little cheer for this. That’s a warning. 15 years ago, I
was at law school, and I quit to do something
useful with my life. OK, so now’s the cheer. That was it. [APPLAUSE] I was expecting no
less from Google. And the reason I
quit was because I had a particular
question in mind. And I realized that I
just couldn’t actually do both, both do the
work I was doing, and really pursue this question
to eventually teach and write on it. And here’s the question. So I’ve had 15 years to
think about the answer to this question. You’re going to have 15 seconds,
but I expect great things from you, so it’s no problem. OK, so here’s the question. What is it that keeps otherwise
capable and driven people from breaking through
to the next level? So, I’m going to ask
it again, and then I really want– don’t be shy. Real answers, as
fast as you can. AUDIENCE: Focus. GREG MCKEOWN: That
was really fast. I was going to ask it again,
and there was none of that. OK, so say what did you say? AUDIENCE: Focus. GREG MCKEOWN: Focus,
that’s what keeps us back. That’s because
you think you know what the subject of
the– lack of focus. Good. More. AUDIENCE: Fear. GREG MCKEOWN: Fear,
like what kind of fear? AUDIENCE: Fear of the unknown. Fear of change. GREG MCKEOWN: Just don’t want
to get out of our comfort zone. Right. Thank you. Fear of failure, good. More. Justin? AUDIENCE: Themselves. GREG MCKEOWN: How
does that work? AUDIENCE: The person. GREG MCKEOWN: Just
get rid of myself. AUDIENCE: The person is our
own worst enemy sometimes. GREG MCKEOWN: Worst enemy. In what way? How do you, how does your– AUDIENCE: Self-confidence, fear. It’s all of it, but
it’s all that person. You are your worst
enemy at times. GREG MCKEOWN: You
are your worst enemy. AUDIENCE: You overthink things. You’re afraid of failure. GREG MCKEOWN: Get
rid of yourself, and you’re on your
way to success. AUDIENCE: That’s right. GREG MCKEOWN: No, it’s
an interesting point that you made. We’ll come back to it. Go, Frank. AUDIENCE: Not focusing on the–
Letting little things that aren’t important
take up your time. GREG MCKEOWN: Right. Being consumed by all
the different things that can come along, that
maybe aren’t so important. OK, I want a couple
more thoughts on this. AUDIENCE: Lack of time. GREG MCKEOWN: Lack of time. Too many big things
get in the way of being able to break
through to the next level. What is it that keeps back
capable and driven people from breaking through
the next level? The answer that I
came to, eventually, was counter intuitive. Something hidden in plain sight. The answer to the
question of why otherwise capable and
driven people don’t break through the next
level is success. And this is how it works. I first observed this
working with executive teams in Silicon Valley. And this is the process. The paradox of
success is that when they were focused on a
few essential things, the right things, they could
get unified behind it and so on. And it coalesced to
momentum, and with that, they were able to produce success. But success came with it,
options and opportunities, which, although they’re
the right problems, they do turn out, in
fact, to be problems. Because they undermine the
very focus on essentials that led to success
in the first place. So I’m exaggerating the
point in order to make it, but success can become
a catalyst for failure. And if not that,
at least success can become a catalyst for
plateauing in our progress. And suddenly,
we’re just consumed with all of the good things. So think about it this way. So this is a true
story, somebody I interviewed for the book. Based in a stone’s throw
from where we are right now. And he was in a company. He was focused on the
things that he loved to do. He’s doing a great job at
them, but then his company was purchased by a larger,
more bureaucratic firm. And he went in there wanting
to be a good citizen. A team player, which was code
for try to say yes to every one without really
thinking about it. So if there’s an
email chain, he wants to be the first person on it. If there’s a conference call,
and he’s invited, he goes. A meeting, the same. But what he found was that as
the frustration and stress was going up, his quality
of work was going down. And eventually, that gap
became so large and painful, he considered leaving
the company altogether. And just to make the
temptation even greater, they actually came to him, and
offered him an early retirement package. Well, what to do? He goes to a mentor, and
as they discuss this, they realize that he doesn’t
want to retire at all. What he wants to do is
do this kind of work. Even if he retired, he’d
just start a consultancy doing the same kind of
work he’s already doing. And then, he thought
who would my clients be? Well, one of them
would be the company I’m currently working for,
because they could clearly use the help. So the mentor listening to all
of this says, you know what? You need to retire in role. Now that’s different than quit,
stay, and don’t tell anybody. We’ve sometimes worked with
people in that category. It was to use a lens of
focusing on a few things. For example, he just said,
well, if I was a consultant into this company, I wouldn’t
be on every email chain. And I wouldn’t go
to every meeting. I would use so much more
selectivity about what I did. And so he started pushing back. Started not simply
going to everything. Not attending every meeting. In fact, one of the meetings
he’d been regularly going to, he just stopped going to. It was an experiment. That doesn’t always
work well, but what happened for him is that they
came to him a little concerned. We missed you at the meeting. He said, what do you need? Well, we needed this
project getting done. Oh, great, I’ll do that
by the end of the week. Solved his our commitment
in the meeting. Two minutes conversation, done. Well, he continued this
experiment for a few months. What happened? He got fired. He didn’t get
fired, but it would change the tenor
of the conversation if that is what had happened. No, this is what happened. Let’s start at
home, first of all. At home, what he
got back was– Well, he said, he got his life back. At 6 o’clock, he
put off the phone. It wasn’t necessary anymore. He set different expectations. So he ate dinner with
his wife every night. He went to the gym. Suddenly, he got a
sense of control back. What happened at work? By the end of the year, his
performance ratings went up. Massively up. And he ended off
the year with one of the largest bonuses
of his whole career. How’s it possible? Well, actually, the way
it’s possible is arithmetic. It’s a really simple idea,
and possible to execute. Because you can either do many,
many things averagely well, or you can do a few
things superbly well. And if you do the right
few things superbly well, you’re far more likely to be
acknowledged for what you’ve done and to make a
significant contribution. So this is the value
proposition of essentialism. It’s done right, you can
increase your contribution, overall. Well, what about you? All right. So I want you to snap if
these are true for you, OK? I want you to think about this. So, have you ever
been overworked, and at the same
time underutilized? OK, snap for that. [FINGERS SNAPPING] OK. Have you ever been stretched
too thin at work or at home? Snap for that. [FINGERS SNAPPING] Have you ever said
yes just to please? [FINGERS SNAPPING] Or just to appease? [FINGERS SNAPPING] Or just to avoid trouble? [FINGERS SNAPPING] So if you snap to
any of the above, then the way out is
what I would call the way of the essentialist. It’s a very different way of
thinking about everything else. It’s not one more thing to cram
into your overstuffed life. It’s not just one
more little idea. OK, that’s good. I should be an essentialist
sometimes, too. It’s a different way of
looking at everything. A different lens. A different mindset. And it’s radically,
totally different than what we see
today in society. Because I would argue
to you, With you, that we are going through
right now, a new bubble. So we’ve had, of course,
Silicon Valley bubbles before. We’ve had real estate bubbles. And years and years
before that, centuries before, we had the tulip
bubble and all of this, right? We know about bubbles. But I think, right now, we
have a bubble of more, where we are irrationally overvaluing
the idea of having it all, doing it all, fitting it
all in if we possibly can. That this, in fact, is
the very way to success. But what I found
is the opposite. That that logic leads to the
undisciplined pursuit of more, to use Jim Collin’s phrase. And the antidote to it is
the disciplined pursuit of less, but better. So you can take
that design ethic. The design ethic,
by the way, came from Dieter Rams, the head
designer at Braun for 35 years. And he summarized all
of his life’s learnings into 10 principles, summarized
those even further to one, and then summarized
that into three words. Less, but better. And he applied it to
the design of products, and superbly
successful in doing so. But I want to make the case that
we can take that same design ethic, and use it to great
advantage in our careers, in our leadership, and also,
in our lives, writ large. And the importance of that
is difficult to overstate. Because it is a matter of fact,
and I want to put it to you, and then ask kind of a
big and crucial question for our conversation today. I’ll put it to you
that the evidence is, that at the end of
our lives, there seems to be a tendency to
regret the way we lived them. Bronnie Ware is the
Australian nurse. This is just one
example, one data point, but she spoke to a lot of people
at the end of their lives, captured them, and
wrote a piece called “The Five Regrets of the Dying.” At the top of that
list was having lived a life that was not true
to myself, but to the life other people expected of me. And the second was,
too much time in work, too little time with family
and key relationships. And then the list goes on. But the point I
want to put to you is that nobody
intended to be there. Nobody designed that outcome. It happened by default. And my question to you
is how it happened. So here’s the question. Why is it that otherwise
intelligent people end up getting tricked by the trivial? This is my question to you. It’s not an
insignificant question, because other people just
as smart as you, as us. Just as driven. Just as thoughtful. Just as careful,
somehow seem to end up where they didn’t
intend to end up. And that is more than
intellectual curiosity, although it is that, to me. It’s also just a question
we ought to ask about, because we just get the one wild
and precious life, after all, so how do we design our
choices really matters. So coming back to you now,
I want the answers again, fast and furious. why is it otherwise
intelligent people get tricked by the trivial? This is the question
I want to put to you. What are your thoughts? AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]. GREG MCKEOWN: So you’re
just so busy, you get into a busyness cycle,
where you’re so busy, you don’t have
any time to think. So that means that
you’re so busy, that you don’t have
any time to think. And so it goes for
many, many years. And so this is why
very routinely, I’m talking to people, here
in Valley and all over, that will say, Yeah, I ended up
spending 15 years at X company, and I just can’t
understand how I did that. Why that happened or why I
spent the time doing that, when there were other things
I really wanted to do. So I love that idea. A busyness cycle. Thank you for that answer. More. Go. AUDIENCE: It gives a false
sense of accomplishment. When you do trivial things,
you can accomplish them, and the bigger ones are harder. GREG MCKEOWN: Yes,
small, quick wins. Or at least feel like wins. They get them off the plate. I sent the email. I responded to that person. It feels like accomplishment. And by the way, if
you didn’t say it, but it was true for you, I want
you to snap for those, too. Thank you for that. More. There was another hand. Go. And others. Don’t be shy. I want to hear your thoughts. Go. AUDIENCE: Yeah, we respond to
urgency more than importance AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] GREG MCKEOWN: That’s a great
new phrase for us all there. A to-do list pack rat. So what does it
mean, really, though? AUDIENCE: Well, your lists get
longer, and longer, and longer. And you’re constantly
crossing them off to do them. GREG MCKEOWN: Have
you ever notice that? That by the end of
the day, your list is longer than at the beginning? I once made a list like
this, a list of everything that was on my mind. 400 things by the
time I was done. Some of you will be much higher. Smaller brain,
that’s how it goes. 400 things. And I just looked at
that list, said OK. And I thought, OK, from
now I’m going to cross off every time I do
something, and I’m going to add it every time I
make a commitment to anyone new, right? I just did it for a week
or two, just to see. Yeah, it’s very predictable. The list got longer
every single day. There’s a problem
there, isn’t there? Take that forward for the
next however many years, and you’ve got a
problem with perpetually being in a certain cycle. A certain challenge. Thank you for that. More. AUDIENCE: Passive
participation [INAUDIBLE]. GREG MCKEOWN: Right. Passive– AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]. GREG MCKEOWN:
Passively going along with other people’s agenda. Let me just speak to
that for a moment. In fact, I was talking
to Vint Cerf here. And we were talking about
a few different things, but one of the things
he said in passing, which I thought
was interesting, is I must have mentioned
information overload. And he said, Oh,
information overload. He says, I hear
this all the time, but we’ve had
information overload since we had a library. So this is not
some new challenge. Now I don’t fully agree with
him because a library is still so passive, in comparison
to the information that has come over the last 20 years. But still, I think
he’s onto something. That it’s not just
information overload today that we’re struggling with. It’s opinion overload. And that’s a very different
psychological challenge. Information overload
is just stuff. Stuff you could learn about. Stuff you could read about. Opinion overload, that has
come with the advancement of social media and
smart technology, means that people’s agendas,
which always affected us, suddenly are affecting us
in a hyper connected way. So I think that’s a nice point. More. What is it that tricks
otherwise intelligent people to believe that
what they’re doing is important when it’s not? How do we get tricked
by the trivial? Don’t be shy. Speak up. What are your thoughts? AUDIENCE: Habit. GREG MCKEOWN: Habit. What do you mean by habit? AUDIENCE: It feels normal. GREG MCKEOWN: It feels
normal to just keep doing what we’re doing. It’s become routine. I love this. You two, I want to come
back to in a moment. Let me just talk to this
routine idea for a moment, because one of the things that
interested me so much when I was looking into
this whole subject is how do you make
doing the essentials as effortless as possible? It’s doing the essential work
in our life is always difficult. If it’s always
the hardest thing, we won’t do it,
because we’ll tend in a sort of self
interested way, to do the stuff
that’s effortless. So the key, of course, is
eventually to get to the point where our routine
supports the things that we think are
actually essential, and making that as
effortless as possible. And so in that mindset,
I was visiting China. And I was in the cube. Remember, from the
Beijing Olympics, where Michael Phelps
astounded the world. And as I was sitting
there watching it, I was struck by how different
the kind of execution we all saw in that room, is so
different than the kind of execution we see
on a day to day basis. I mean, for example, no one was
forcing it at the last moment there, right? Nobody was falling
into the pool, because they hadn’t quite
got themselves organized. I mean, the whole thing
appeared effortless. I don’t mean it really was,
but there’s still something about it being a kind of
frictionless experience. And then, as I went to research
that, the Michael Phelps phenomenon there,
I found that he had followed a very
particular selected routine from his coach, Bob Bowman,
and had followed that routine for many years, prior to
being in the Olympics. And this is the routine. He arrived two
hours ahead of time. He swam a whole set of lengths. 400 back stroke. 800 freestyle, and so on. He gets out, puts
on a particular kind of swimming trunks. Then he sits. At 45 minutes before the time,
he sits on the massage table. Never lies down. From a certain point on, he
never speaks to the coach, and the coach never
speaks to him. It’s just silent. When he sits down, about
to go up to the podium, he always sits down
and puts the towel to one side, his
goggles to the other. Puts in the same music. When they announce his name,
they take out the same earbud first, then the other. He dries the podium. Always gets on
from the left side. And on and on it goes. This incredibly
designed routine that he had practiced hundreds and
hundreds of times, prior to being in the Olympics. And it doesn’t even end there. His coach had created what he
called, “put in the videotape.” There’s no videotape,
but the idea was, every night
and every morning, he was to visualize, in slow
motion, the perfect race. Every single stroke
from beginning to end, including the
elation of success, the screaming in
triumph, and the water slow-motion dripping
off his face. Every day, twice a
day, for a decade. When he came to the Olympics,
it was so routine, so built-in to him, he just continued. He didn’t have to think
differently about it. It was routine. So in a way, what I want to do
is turn this around and say, how do you build a
habit or a routine, that supports the things
that are most essential? So that that becomes
the default position, and not only when we’re
sort of aggressively trying to pursue it. Yeah. Just what is essential
and what isn’t essential? I mean, this is a really
important question. And it’s a non-trivial question. And the thing that I want
to put to you about this is that we just often now
don’t create the space, to be able to think about this. In fact, I was at
Twitter recently, and somebody said in passing. They just asked. They said, do you remember
what it was like to be bored? They said, when
you’re in the airport, and the flight isn’t coming. And you don’t have
anything to do. You have to sort of think. Maybe you get a book
and you read it, but you have to do
something a little deeper. And he said, now
there’s none of that. None at all. We have used every
ounce of that space. We’re on the phone. We’re responding. We’re listening. We’re taking information,
and we’re doing something. And it does raise the question
of what a society will be like that
doesn’t ever ponder. That just is always plugged in. That is addicted, in that sense. So thank you for that thought,
and then a comment here, too. AUDIENCE: Yeah. So the I said the
answer to this. My opinion is– GREG MCKEOWN: Yeah. So the challenge is that
if you have a manager who’s completely infected
in nonessentialism, who thinks that the
answer is just more, than you’ve got
yourself a challenge. And let me just tell you, I feel
like I’ve seen this a hundred times, because this
idea has infiltrated into corporations, for sure. And you can see it. In fact, you can
see it in a word. Let me give the history
lesson of the word “priority.” Does anybody know this? So the word “priority” came
into the English language in the 1400s. And it was singular. “Priority.” Now what did it mean? Tell me what you think it meant. Give me the obvious. What does the word
mean, “priority?” Don’t overthink it. What does it mean? AUDIENCE: The most important. GREG MCKEOWN: Most important. The first thing. The prior thing. Exactly so. And it kept that very clear
and simple and sensible definition for the
next 500 years. Only in the 1900s did
we pluralize the term, and start speaking
of “priorities.” But what does it mean? What does the word even mean? Can you have very many
very first prior things? So you see this Sometimes,
coming back to the comment, that you have managers who say,
with no sense of irony at all, here are the ten priorities. In fact, I was at
group not long ago. And they knew I was coming
to teach about essentialism. And they knew about this
definition of “priority,” and it still didn’t
stop them sending out to the entire group, the nine
priorities for the fiscal year, and not in priority order. And so what we did,
which was kind of fun, is that after the
presentation, they took the next hour, changed
their whole schedule, and they got everybody to
vote on which the ones, what the order should be, and
which ones were essential. And they did identify what the
top one was, and the top three, and it was clear winners
across the other ones. And it helped, of course,
the whole organization to be able to get sensible about
what they would say yes to, and what they would say no to. So this whole idea of
priority and getting back to the singular sense of
it, I think is important. What is it that gets in the way? How do otherwise
intelligent people get tricked by the trivial? What are your thoughts on this? How else does it happen? Go. So the comment was this idea
that the non-trivial is often– This idea of
planning, and so on, doesn’t give an
immediate payoff. And so that’s a challenge. You’re planning. You’re thinking. You’re organizing. You’re not doing, in
the traditional sense. And in fact, I would go
even one stage further to suggest that often, we are
rewarded for bad behavior, and punished for good behavior. So, if you say yes to someone,
just like that, immediately, Oh, thank goodness. They’re relieved,
and that’s good. And you’re doing
it, and you have it. If you say no, or you
push back, then that’s not so emotionally good or
safe in the relationship. So there’s a withdrawal
that takes place. But over time, if you simply
allow that to guide you, then you can have your whole
life consumed in things that you didn’t
otherwise choose. Thank you for that. More. Yes. When I think about
that, it makes me think of an absolutely
classic example of everything we’re talking about, in the
embodiment of Rosa Parks. What I think is interesting
about Rosa Parks, and the very famous story
that she is so well known for, is that she wasn’t
growing up at all likely, or even just earlier
in her adult life, at all likely to say no. In fact, when she
first joined the NAACP, they needed someone
to be the secretary, and she did it because she was
asked to do it, and she says, it never even occurred to
her that she could say no. And so this same person, who
was so willing to sort of do the things that other people
were asking her and expecting of her, is the same person,
that in a different situation, is able to say no in
this critical moment. So when the bus driver
came to her– Now what’s the difference? It’s important, because
it’s the same person here. But in the moment that the bus
driver came to her and said, you need to leave. You need to get up. You need to leave
out of these seats. She said, in that moment,
a feeling of clarity came over her, like
a warm blanket. Wrapped her around, and
she could feel certain. And she simply knew she would
never ride the bus again in that way. What I think is
interesting is that she didn’t try to manipulate
the driver, as a result. When the driver said,
Well, I’ll call the police, her response was,
“You may do that.” So she was clear about
what she was going to do and not going to do, and wasn’t
trying to necessarily even get to the conversation with him. Now, of course, it
caused conflict. But this is exactly
what I’m suggesting, is that there’s a tension
between internal clarity and social expectation. And what we need
to do to make sure that social expectation
doesn’t completely own us, is to have that time and
space to ask the question. What is essential? So that we can gain highest
levels of clarity on that. Thank you. More on this. Go, thanks. AUDIENCE: I’d say, passion
to get things done. Because [INAUDIBLE]. GREG MCKEOWN: What you said
was the desire to just execute. That you want to be the one. So if nobody else picks
it up in the team, you’re going to be
the one to do it. AUDIENCE: Not necessarily. GREG MCKEOWN: So one of the
reasons that you take things on is because other
people aren’t. You see it as being important
to the project, and you do it. I mean, of course, one
can argue that you’re doing the right thing
in that situation. But the challenge is not simply
allowing it to be the default. The norm. That you become the yes person. The I’ll pick it up person. Someone dropped the
ball, and I’ll take it. So someone that I
really sort of feel symbolically that the
book is written to, is someone who, learning
of essentialism, suddenly discovered
that I can push back. I don’t have to operate
the way that I’ve been taught to operate. And as a result of it, she goes
and negotiates with her manager to have five days
off work, to be able to focus solely on the
preparation for her wedding. They negotiate and
agree that this is the work that needs
to be accomplished. This is what’s critical. She does it. She does it ahead of time. She makes it happen, and the
boss is thrilled with it. But then, as she
enters the five days, the boss says, well
somebody dropped the ball, and I just need you to do it. It’s really very important. I need you to do it. And in the past,
by a factor of 100, she would always have done it. She’d never said no. Never pushed back. She just was that person,
and for the first time, she pushes back. She says no. The boss is not pleased. But what happens is that a
week later, when they get back a week or two later
after the wedding, the boss says, You know what? I realized after you said
that, and pushed back, that there were other people
who hadn’t been pulling their weight
properly on the team. And this was the first time I
was really having to face that. So that’s how it sort of
ended up turning out there. But she herself was so
touched by the experience, so impacted that
she had more power than she had
previously realized, that the non essentials
were negotiable, that when she went
to her wedding, she added into her vows the
idea that I will essentialize this marriage relationship
over all other commitments and relationships in my life. I think that’s powerful,
because it captures this idea. That what I’m
suggesting is we need to design our
lives deliberately, or they will end up being
designed for us by people that aren’t as invested
in us achieving the essential
mission of our lives. Good. Let me shift to a slightly
different question. The question is this. I want you to think about
the people in your life. The inspirational people,
that you think do this. The people that you can look
to and say, you know what? They really do
focus on the things that they are built to do. That are essential to them. They live a meaningful life. They’re not simply
consumed in all of the different things
that are going on. And I want you to ask,
how do they do it? And as you’re
thinking about this, I want to at least
share one story as we’re thinking about it,
which is Kay Krill, who I feel is such a good example, because
it’s like so many of us, previously. And so early on in
her life– so this is Kay Krill, who’s now the
CEO of Ann, Inc., and the Ann Taylor brand, and
Loft, and so on. Early on in her
career, in her life, she found myself saying
yes to everything. Every social meeting after. Every extracurricular at work,
and even social engagements outside of work. And a mentor came to her, and
said, and I love these words. They said, you’ve got
to learn to jettison the activities, and
even the relationships from your life that are
less meaningful to you. So that– and it’s
important, the so that– so that you can invest your time
and energy into the things that are truly meaningful to you. Why I like this story is that
she’s really learned to do it. That over the years in
that interim period, she has practiced. She has experimented
with essentialism. She has tried it out. Now she really feels,
it’s easy for me. It’s easy for me to say
no to the things that are less important, and I
know that things that are. So it’s a learnable skill. Now with that as an
intro, back to you. What is it that the people
that inspire you do? How do they do this? How are they able to
focus on the things that are really essential, and
push the other things aside? What are your thoughts on this? How do they do it? Courage, and commitment,
and a sense of unyielding, purposeful clarity. That’s exactly what I found,
is that when we’re clear enough on purpose, when we have a
clear enough, strong enough yes burning within us,
then we’re able to, sometimes almost effortlessly,
just navigate the no. We’re not running around
saying no to everybody. But at the same time,
we’ve thought so deeply about what we do, and what we
believe, and what is valuable, we’re able to navigate a
lot of social pressure. One of my favorite
examples of this, as I was researching the book. Steve Jobs is
someone who is often cited as someone who said
no, and all of that, right? But what I love is a story of
someone who said no to him. And this was when he
left Apple, and he’d started the company, NeXT. And he was trying
to find a logo. And so he found one of the best
people in the business, Paul Rand, who designed ABC’s
logo, Bloomingdale’s, and a bunch of others. And they have the
meeting, and he says, look, what
I need you to do is, I need you to bring me
a whole bunch of options. Graphical designs, so
I can look at them, evaluate them, and so on. And that’s what every graphic
designer gets asked to do, so a fairly normal request. And it’s Steve
Jobs asking for it. So maybe, not so
easy to push back on. This is Paul Rand’s response. He says no. He says, no, I will solve
your problem for you. And then he added,
and you will pay me. And you don’t have to use
it, but you will pay me, and I will solve
your problem for you. He says, if you want to have
all these other options, you may get those
from someone else. But this is how
it works with me. Well, Steve Jobs went
for it, signs with him, pays him the $100,000
for the logo, loves it, describes
it as a “jewel.” But also, and this is sort
of the most important point in the story, he
described Paul Rand as the ultimate professional. He said, because he had thought
through the client relationship more deeply than I had. So to this idea of when we have
a deep enough sense of what is that we want, and what’s
the right thing, and the best use of us, then we’re
able to navigate and learn to negotiate the rest. As Peter Drucker put it,
he said, effective people are effective
because they say no. Because they say,
this isn’t for me. But to be able to do that
with any conviction at all, we actually have
to do the thinking time to get the clarity. And then, with that clarity,
we have a force and a power with which to negotiate. Thank you for this. What do they do? The people that inspire you. What do they do, and
how do they do this? How they do it? What are your thoughts? Let me put to you someone
that’s inspired me. Someone that I think
captures the very embodiment of what we’re talking about. And it was another barrister. Well, I didn’t
become a barrister, because I quit, but
would have been. Started in London,
England, and he would have been a barrister
for the rest of his life, other than he had this family thing
come up in South Africa. And so he leaves. Goes to South Africa, and
on the way to South Africa, has one of these
defining moments. He gets kicked off the train. And he gets kicked off the
train, because he’s Indian, and he’s not allowed
to be in first class. And instead of just taking
it and dealing with it, he goes, it’s wrong. It’s injustice. It’s wrong. And he takes on the
South African government, specifically about this issue. He goes through a whole process
with them, and finally wins. And having won at least
a portion of a victory, he leaves to go
back now to India. We’re talking about,
of course, Gandhi. And when he goes
back to India, there is another test for
him waiting there. But it’s unusual test. It’s the test of success. Failure will test us,
but nothing like success will test us. And so when he arrives,
everyone is expecting something from him. Everyone wants him to
run for public office. They want him to run. Be prime minister. They’ve heard of his victory. They want to support him. There’s momentum, and social
pressure, and, of course, he wants to make a
difference in his life. So, of course, that
would be the thing to do. A nonessentialist would
have done just that. But instead, think
of the discipline, and think of the logic that
would drive such behavior. He said, no. I will spend a year
listening to India. I will travel, and I will
go to the paddy fields, and I will meet people. And I will try to
understand what’s going on. What is essential? So that I can discern
it, and see it. And you know what he found? He found what was
essential was salt. It wasn’t obvious before. And this is how he described it. He said, if you can control salt
production as the British did, then you can control
the bread production, and the rest of the
food production. And so, by this single
control mechanism, you can keep 300 million
people easily under control. And so this is when he
came up with the salt marches, in which he
walked across India. And 600,000 people followed
him in a symbolic statement of support, and pushing
back on the British empire. And then through a
series of experiments. He called them
experiments with truth, but we could call them
experiments with essentialism. The same idea, because what
it came down to was a phrase. He said, I was learning
to reduce myself to zero. Instead, to fill his life
with only the purpose for which he was built. It included all sorts of fun
and sort of strange experiments including, a diet that he chose. Many, many different
kinds of diets as he was going through, choosing
those things that really worked, and actually
helped him to be most in attunement in his life. It included not reading a
newspaper for three years at one time, because it
was too cluttering to what he was trying to focus on. One day a week, for a period
of time, not speaking. Well, that is a challenge. And on it went, including
eliminating from his life the stuff. So he died with just
10 things to his name. But, of course, not only that
to his name, but something else. As the Secretary of
State, George C. Marshall said at the time, that
he’d become the spokesman for the conscience
of all mankind. And Einstein said of
him, “Generations to come will scarce believe
that such a one as this, ever in flesh and blood,
walked upon this earth.” Well, we don’t
have to be Gandhi. But we could
probably channel some of the power of that story,
to inspire us to make sure that we live a life built
around the voice inside, instead of the noise outside. That we can learn to
discern what’s essential. The vital few from
the trivial many. That we can make micro
adjustments in the things we do often, to be able to
take us closer to the life that truly is essential
down the path. Well, life is fast and
full of opportunity. And the complication is, we
think we have to do everything. And my position is that we
can make a different choice. That we can learn to eliminate
the non essentials, and as a result of that, live a
life that really matters. Do truly great work. And I think that that decision
really, really matters. Thank you ever so
much for having me. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] AUDIENCE: In order to
get to essentialism, it seems as if discernment
is a very large component of this process. Do you have any recommendations,
in regards to discernment? GREG MCKEOWN: Yeah. Thank you for that. Do I have any recommendations
for discernment? I think we can start
really easy on this, because such low hanging fruit. Just start the day off. Don’t reach for your phone. Almost reach for
anything else, actually. But reach for a journal. I’ve kept a general now for
the last, easily, 10 years, and hardly missed a day. And I tell you,
just start small. This is the way to do it. Just write less
than you want to. But just have a moment. A space to be able to
at least reflect on yesterday and what
you want to do today. This is a very simple practice. Start with a minute a
day, and eventually it will become it’s own
sort of– I don’t want to use the
word “addiction,” but its own success cycle,
where you find yourself wanting to write more and reflect more. Because instead of having
the world act on you as our phones do, we
can act upon our lives and upon the future. It’s one very small
thing to do, but I think getting a morning routine. A first thing routine is a
really powerful way to start. Thank you for that. AUDIENCE: Thanks for coming out. I wanted to ask you. So it seems like
the overall goal is fulfillment and
happiness, right? With essentialism, and the
way the workforce works now, do you see a dichotomy
between what people probably need to do to feel fulfilled,
versus what companies look for in promotions, and
moving people up the ranks? GREG MCKEOWN: Yeah. I mean, the answer’s yes. I mean, is there a distinction,
and a contradiction between what companies
want from us, and what will actually help us
to be able to be successful? At times, absolutely. And I think that learning
to decide which trade offs we want to make is the
essence of strategy. So in our personal
strategy, it’s exactly that. Which things do I want to do? Now, one thing I can
certainly recommend. It’s a very quick fix. Or at least a quick
fix to understand it, is work with people who value
the same things that you do. And there’s a big range on that. And I was recently
listening to a CEO talk. And the way that they
talked about life being equivalent to the company. They said, point blank, in
this sort of Q&A session. I absolutely have given my life
to this company for 20 years. my family have been the victims. This is completely, not
really apologetically, but just very candidly. I’m sure lots of other
people had done it, but they were owning it. And so, in the middle of it
they say, “I answer my emails at 3:00 in the morning,
and I respond by 3:05.” And then, as if that wasn’t
enough, that got our attention. Then they pointed to the
back of the room and said, “And my assistant
is the same way. Isn’t that right?” And of course, all heads turned,
and this assistant at the back is nodding, as you can imagine. And they say, “When I
email you at 4:00 AM, you respond by 4:05. Isn’t that right?”
“That is right.” So, that is very
far on a spectrum, but it only goes
to prove the point that there is a whole range. And I think the selection
of who you spend time with, including who
your manager is, and being very
careful about that, will make a big difference
to the trade-offs you have to make. I have found it in my life. I mean, I could sell a
personal story about this. I have found a high cost
to getting that wrong. Actually, maybe I’ll share that. And maybe tie it up on this. So, my wife is here today, Anna. And so, she could tell you
this story maybe better than I could. Or at least, a different
perspective on it, but this is how it worked. So my wife is expecting
one of our daughters. And I got an email from
my manager at the time, and said, “Friday would be a
very bad time to have a baby. Because I need you to be
at this client meeting.” And you know, maybe
they were joking. But somehow, that stayed
with me through the week. And instead of being
able to focus, and just enjoy this moment,
and so on, I was torn trying to straddle both. Do them both. It’s a nonessentialist
trick, right? I can do both. I can fit them both in. And the day comes. Daughter’s born on Friday. And I’m in the hospital,
baby’s healthy. My wife’s there looking radiant. And so, I said, filled
with clarity now. I said, with all the
conviction I could muster, yes. And so I went. I remember after the meeting,
my manager said to me, “The client will respect you
for the choice you made.” I don’t know that they did. The look on their faces did not
evince that kind of confidence. But even if they had, and even
if some extraordinary thing had come from it, which
nothing did, surely, even in those
best-case scenarios, I had made a fool’s bargain. It was there, in a
sort of quite deep way, that I learned this lesson. If you don’t prioritize your
life, someone else will. This is not a neutral
game we’re playing. People have their own things. They have their own
agendas, and we will simply become a function of those,
unless we deliberately do something else. So, in the final analysis, we
can either choose deliberately to pursue the vital few,
or we can, by default, be pulled into the trivial many. So, again, thank
you for your time, and so great to be with you. Thank you. [APPLAUSE]

26 comments

  1. Very insightful book, I was amazed on how much "clutter" i have going down and how much i could do less with. Knowing is one thing, letting go is another.

  2. The idea is excellence and also obvious. I guess it is difficult no to get to it after working profoundly onto something. 

  3. Its a profound to learn or get the key on how to focus the limitless energy we all have just towards on particular essential! ''Less, but better''
    Thank You Greg!

  4. Great concept, however saying no at a job can be difficult based upon your position. I'm not sure lower level positions have that type of autonomy as an executive.

  5. This book. A waist of money and time I do not recommend it. I wantend to see if this video would bring something the book lacks but again the same story's. My advies read Some blog post on the subject and that Will be the same "less is better";) excuse my English

  6. What makes us capable or driven to break through next level? As we see higher, our time is consumed vaulessly without corresponding effort. Given limit of time own set the plan with holistic view as well as streamline myself under assumption of cost and benefit we try to contemplate how i live till now. Especially routine is one of my obstacles to preclude me step further and create disruptive improvement. On the other hand, To keep us familiar to tackle difficulties it should be routine. To set a rule or discipline is one of standardization and reducing unnecessary activities. As we are aware spontaneously to be entitled with more empowerment at the organization, you could intervene in any struggles or troubles and say no to others. If you want to bring yourself to the higher position, you should regard yourself good listener to others.

  7. nobody answered "money / resources" to the opening question and i am flabbergasted by this. talk about living in a bubble.

    (i think the talk is phenomenal, btw. truly great, and his ability to build the talk interactively is astonishing. i just think ^that's an important observation to make.)

  8. Ok, hold on. I don't mean to protest, but isn't this just a little bit over simplifying how to work? Not everyone has the freedom to say no.

  9. Question: what is it that keeps otherwise capable and driven people from breaking through to the next level? 
    What does that mean "next level?" Why not move laterally rather vertically?

  10. Have you ever found yourself stretched too thin? Do you sometimes feel overworked and underutilized? Does your day sometimes get hijacked by someone else's agenda?Have you ever said "yes" simply to please and then resented it?

  11. Pienso que la meta es llegar a ser dueño de casi todo sitio que uno atiende o le aplica su entendimiento. Por supuesto que habrán sitios que uno no tenga elección de atenderlo o no, por ejemplo, si uno está dormido y empieza a sonar la alarma.

    En este caso, la alarma es tan fuerte que no tienes de otra que atenderlo y usando ejemplos más importantes, usaré la familia y el trabajo. En muchos casos, aún cuando tengas distintas tareas (sitios) a los cuáles atender, ahora tienes el celular con mil notificaciones (sitios) que te llama la atención o entra tu jefe (sitio) y te dice que dejes de hacer eso y tepongas hacer esto otro (sitio).

    Por eso, una de las mejores experiencias, es la de independizarte de tus papás. Por que una de las cosas que trae el ser dueño de todo lo que tienes (parte material) es poder tener muros físicos con los cuáles tu formar cuáles serán los sitios (metas) a los cuáles atender y que salgan de manera orgánica. Que no sean obligaciones y por eso termines sintiendo tristeza porque reconoces que no has vivido la vida bajo tus propios términos, si no, bajo los términos de alguien más.

    Así que, si uno quiere lograr esa meta, entonces es necesario ser inteligente en preservar la libertad, o sea, la ausencia de interferencias o de personas que tengan la capcidad de interferir arbitrareamente a tu vida.

    Buen video.

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