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Do you know what the secret of life is?

City Slickers is a 1991 film that I’ve referenced in seminars for many years. New Yorker Mitch is having a midlife crisis and goes west to ride the range for a few weeks in hopes of finding himself. He meets a grizzled, no nonsense cowboy named Curly, who can see Mitch is all tied up in knots. Curly gives him a life changing piece of advice:

Do you know what the secret of life is? One thing. Just one thing. Stick to that and the rest don’t mean (anything).”

And what’s the one thing, Mitch asks? “That’s what you have to figure out.”

At the farewell meeting with the basketball players I coach –who are currently in middle school– I challenged them to think about what their #1 objective for high school would be. Win a state championship? Get an athletic/academic scholarship? Earn enough to buy a Corvette? Be the most popular kid in school? Any of those may be a worthy #1 objective, but one needs to take precedence over the others to dictate the proper prioritization of activities along the way.

Companies are the same way. Whenever I do a strategic planning session we begin by articulating the #1 objective of the organization. If there are different opinions on that then we settle them immediately. And it’s not enough for a for-profit company to say “our #1 thing is to make more money.” How much more are you shooting for? If some of the leaders think a $10 million improvement to the bottom line is the goal and others think it should be $50 million, that’s a problem. The type of activities you would undertake to get to $10M will be very different than what you’d do to get to $50M.

The same mindset applies to team projects, staff meetings, job searches, relationships… you name it. You’ll never be successful if you have an unclear definition of or differing opinions on what your ultimate objective is.

In business and in life, don’t drift aimlessly from day to day. Be clear to yourself what your #1 thing is, and don’t let anything –temporary setbacks, opportunities for short term gratification, pressure from friends/teammates/co-workers, etc. – get in your way.

Ralph Smith

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