“Can I talk to you about the rainforest today” a young man clad in plaid, sporting a beard and wearing what I think are the pair of Chocos I left in my college dorm room (more than a decade ago), asks me as I walk into my favorite Denver coffee shop.
“Usually,” I respond, “yes. But I just chatted with another one of your colleagues in front of Trader Joe’s. Can I buy you a coffee for your hard work instead?”
He thanks me politely, and we go about our days. As I sit down inside with my cold brew and computer, it dawns on me how carefully chosen the street corners and locations are for these canvassers.
Greg McKeowns’ Essentialism remains a seminal text and philosophy for the way that I approach strategic planning and project manager. So I find myself often looking for examples of Essentialism-in-Action. These young workers are a perfect illustration. I interact with the Greenpeace and Human Rights Watch and Planned Parenthood canvassers almost everyday, not because they are everywhere or on every corner, but because they are always at the most essential locations (which I happen to frequent … not because I’m that hip, but because I follow the crowd).
Of course this is obvious to anyone familiar with marketing and sales: you go where the people are, and then you refine those locations (in front of REI, the Denver Marketplace and Fluid coffee) to where the people are who will likely support you or buy your goods. In business real estate it is absolutely location, location, location.
So this approach and tactic is not a break through. Yet if it is so obvious, and clearly quite effective (you’d be surprised how many affirmative contacts the canvassers are making on a daily basis), why do we not replicate the thinking in other small nonprofits and entrepreneurial pursuits? Why do we constantly try to do more and more and more, taking on every decent idea instead of focusing on one or two great ideas and making them the most critical solution?
McKeown points out that we love to say yes to things … and that if we just do that one more thing, we will feel more fulfilled or that our work will have the desired impact. But saying yes again and again is the equivalent of standing on an empty street corner in a quiet neighborhood at ten in the morning on a workday.
My challenge to you this summer is to find that one program at your organization you believe in more than ever and focus maybe 90% of your effort there. Leave the other 10% for the usual administrative duties and some meaningful time to tinker and explore other ideas, but ask yourself what would happen if you put everything into the program you know in your gut is the right direction? What’s possible?
In your life or at work, find your most essential focus and give it the time, energy, and commitment it deserves. And enjoy the process.