These are pointed and tough questions from managers at work to help their teams prioritize and focus on achieving the most important accomplishments.
For Peter Thiel, PayPal billionaire, famed entrepreneur and investor, these don’t nearly go far enough. As the founder of PayPal, Thiel developed an unorthodox, extreme philosophy on focus and prioritization. Instead of focusing on five things, or three things, for Thiel, the magic number is one.
You must only focus on one singular thing.
Peter Thiel’s “One Thing” Management Philosophy
As former PayPal executive Keith Rabois recalls, Thiel “would refuse to discuss virtually anything else with you except what was currently assigned as your #1 initiative.” Imagine running into Thiel in the hallway at work–for everything but your top initiative, he’d literally refuse to speak with you.
On PayPal’s annual review forms, instead of being given room to write a laundry list of accomplishments, every employee was only allowed to identify their “single most valuable contribution to the company.”
That might sound radical and borderline rude, but that’s how Thiel gave teeth to the concept of extreme focus. Employees would be evaluated on their one thing, so they were authorized to focus on it.
With distractions cleared away, Thiel empowered every person in the company to pursue their only priority “with extreme dispatch and vigor.” Giving each individual in the organization a singular focus drives people to work on only those goals that will help achieve true excellence.
Rabois, one of Thiel’s lieutenants at PayPal, explains:
The most important benefit of this approach is that it impels the organization to solve the challenges with the highest impact. Without this discipline, there is a consistent tendency of employees to address the easier to conquer, albeit less valuable, imperatives. As a specific example, if you have 3 priorities and the most difficult one lacks a clear solution, most people will gravitate towards the 2d order task with a clearer path to an answer.
As a result, the organization collectively performs at a B+ or A- level, but misses many of the opportunities for a step-function in value creation.