For five hundred years, “priority” was singular word meaning a lone task or undertaking that was specially important or top of mind. Then, at some sad (or possibly busy) moment in the history of the English language, the word starting gaining currency as a plural. “Priority” became “priorities”…which implied that many things could be specially important or top of mind.
Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism, says it’s time to recover and revive the original, singular meaning of that word—and trade the undisciplined pursuit of more for the disciplined pursuit of less. That was focus of his keynote at Conversations That Win 2016, and one that is so relevant to today’s marketers, salespeople, and executives.
One balloon of conventional wisdom McKeown punctured in his message is the idea that, “if you do it all, you can have it all.” In other words, the more initiatives you commit yourself to, the more accomplished and successful you will be. He also warned about something too many companies find out too late: Success can be the catalyst of failure. When companies have a run of success, it validates the behaviors that contributed to that success, and it’s easy to get lured into believing your approach during the boom period will continue to be effective indefinitely, regardless of how market forces and other external factors shift. Often times, the behaviors that drive success will exhaust their usefulness, and if you don’t adapt before they do, success will give way to failure.
Perhaps the most important cultural lie that McKeown confronted head-on is that busyness equates to importance. The connection between busyness and importance—i.e. the belief that busyness is good and necessary and should be rewarded—has paradoxically created an environment where the unimportant consumes our time and energy. An “essentialist” revolution, McKeown believes, would reverse those values, and make it so that we apply our funds of discipline and focus to what’s really important in work and in life.