Ever wondered about the inception of the revolutionary concept behind “The ONE Thing”? The wait is over!
Today on the show, I sit down with none other than Jay Papasan, the co-author of “The ONE Thing.” A dynamic voice who has directly shaped the philosophy and teachings of the book, Jay is here to shed light on the compelling journey that led to its creation. From the ideation to the practical applications of the book’s principles, we’re covering it all in this episode. Join us as Jay dives deep into the core of the concept, sharing stories, answering some of your burning questions, and revealing the profound impact of focusing on the one thing that truly matters.
For those looking to bring a higher degree of purpose and priority into their daily lives, be sure to visit the1thing.com.
To learn more, and for the complete show notes, visit: the1thing.com/pods.
We talk about:
- Jay’s journey from writing newsletters to publishing bestselling books
- How to adapt to changing circumstances when you’re committed to growth
- Creating habits that cause tectonic shifts in your life
- The things holding most of us back from achieving our goals
Links & Tools from This Episode:
If you can change your habits, you can change your life.
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Produced by NOVA Media
Hey everyone, and welcome back to The ONE Thing Podcast. I am here with the man himself, the co-author of The ONE Thing, Jay Papasan. Thank you so much for being here, Jay.
I'm excited to do this with you today.
I know. We haven't gotten to do this yet, which is really exciting and I know our listeners are very excited to hear from you. Half the questions that we get are specifically related to the application of the book, so we're going to talk a lot about that today.
But before we even dive in, I want to hear the story of how The ONE Thing even came about. So, first off, can you tell the story, you came to Keller Williams originally as a newsletter writer, is that right?
And then, you turned into an author of many books. Walk me through that story.
So, when my wife and I got married, we were in New York City and I worked in publishing, and I'd worked in nonfiction publishing there for about six years at HarperCollins. And gotten to work on some great nonfiction books, which even then I wasn't sure that nonfiction books, it was just a publishing job. I wanted to be around books and have lots of free ones. I always thought I would be a fiction writer someday.
But something happened and there was a creativity click where I realized a lot of the same stuff I loved about fiction, problem solving, and weaving complex things together to make them simple actually showed up in nonfiction. Unfortunately, I got married and we both agreed, I don't want to start a family poor in New York City.
Not unfortunately you got married.
No. But we didn't want to start. But it was unfortunate for my publishing career because outside of New York there's not a lot. Long story short, we ended up visiting Austin to see if we liked it in, I guess, February of 2000, coming from New York City, black Slush overcoats, and it was 80 degrees in Austin. It was one of those Strawberry Spring things going on, which is very common here. Everything was cheap. Everybody was young. Everybody was fit, not quite San Diego fit or anything like that. But compared to New York, it just felt like this healthy, vibrant young city and we're kind of hooked on it.
I mean, the final blow for me - I'm wearing my undershirt because I had no clothes to wear in that heat. I had my white V-neck shirt on and a pair of blue jeans - we went to Zilker Park, just wander around thinking it would be like Central Park. And it was just a bunch of guys out there playing soccer on their lunch break. And some dudes walked by, they had half a 12 pack of Shiner and they said, "We've got to go back to work. Do you want the rest of our beer?"
You're like, "This is the place for me."
This is it. And I was like, everybody was so friendly. I mean, I love New York and New Yorkers have their own kind of warmth, but you have to figure out how to get there.
You got to fight for it.
Yeah, yeah. And it was just so open here. So, we moved here without jobs. I spent the summer freelancing, doing travel writing, a few magazine articles. I think I made $15,000 in taxable income my first year into the marriage. Not a great start. And my wife came home one afternoon after I'd been done working and I was playing Diablo and she's like, "You're getting a job," and I had the cat on my shoulders. I mean, that was like such an introvert, not getting out and meeting people. And she goes, "It's not even about the money. We live very simply. You need to get out and meet people."
So, I interviewed for three jobs. One at GSD&M, a really famous ad firm here. One, I'm trying to think of the name of it. I used to be able to remember it. It was a company, they needed a writer, and they basically chased down deadbeat dads, but they weren't a nonprofit. It was like a for-profit thing to try to collect money from deadbeat dads. And I was a finalist for both of those and a newsletter writer, too, at Keller Williams.
And you know our process here, the hiring process is very intense. I'm applying for a job that made about $45,000 a year. And they gave me two separate behavioral tests. I had five separate interviews. And I remember telling my wife, I was like, "I don't think this is a real estate company at all. I think it's like a front for the CIA. There's no way they do this kind of background checks." I mean, I've got this great publishing resume, way over qualified to be a newsletter writer. At that point, I'd published Body-For-Life, which was one of the biggest books I did there, had already sold three million copies, it went on to sell six-and-a-half. And I'd done several other bestsellers and I was like, "Okay. What's going on here?"
But I quickly fell in love with this kind of entrepreneurial place. There were only 27 employees when I joined and 6,700 agents. I had joined the day after Labor Day 2000 and I bounced around jobs. I started our support desk helping people set up their websites. I started a research department, and that was the first chance I got to work with Gary. I went out and did some undercover work on ZipRealty, which was a new competitive model out there. And then, the original job was writing for their tech newsletter, and that didn't last long, whatever. But they knew I could write and I could research things.
And I remember looking over and there was a guy named Brad, one of our web designers, and he was clearly designing a book cover and I thought he was freelancing at work. I didn't think it was any big deal, and I just said, "Hey, are you working on a freelance project?" Because books, still, my radar, doo, doo, doo, doo. You know, I'm like, "Let's talk about books."
I want to hear more about that.
And he said, "No. Gary and Dave are going to write a book." And Dave Jenks is our former partner that passed away a couple of years ago. And I ran into Gary in the bathroom, I think, two days later, maybe three days later, he owned the building and he was plunging a toilet and he made some wisecrack about how the chairman of the board wasn't too proud to do whatever it took to keep the building running. And while we were washing our hands, I said, "I hear you're writing a book. Do you remember I used to be in book publishing?" And that sparked the conversation of how we became book writing partners. I had 30 days to have a business plan for The Millionaire Real Estate Agent and then we wrote it in less than 100 days.
You wrote The Millionaire Real Estate Agent in less than 100 days.
It was intense. It was the real job interview for the partnership and could I keep up with him and Dave Jenks. They had collectively 40 years of high level real estate experience at that point. So, we would work on flip charts in the morning. I would take the flip charts at noon into my little office with no air conditioning. It was just a sauna in there, I remember. And I would put them up on the wall opposite my desk and my job was to turn around a section of the book by the next morning.
And then, we would start the day by reading through it. They would give me edits, then we would graph out the next one, and I would have to make the edits and write the new section by the next day. And I remember saying it was like a term paper every day, about 14 pages a day. And there's lots of lessons to unpack there, but that's how our partnership started and, you know, we wrote several other books.
And then, sometime around 2008, 2009, I was leading our education and we were writing a course - nobody's going to understand this if you're not with KW - it's called 36-12-3, and it was how to get to 36 transactions in 12 months with three hours a day of lead generation. And it was really trying to get people to focus on the ONE Thing for our industry, which is go out there and find clients to work with. And everything else is a distraction until you have them.
And I finished the course, and back then we packaged them kind of like books but in spiral. And I gave Gary the draft and he goes, "I love it. This is great. I want to write kind of an inspirational foreword to it." And he took it home for the weekend and he came back with an essay called The Power of One. And we all sat there reading it, and I turned to Gary and I said, "This could be a book." And he got really excited and he said, "I thought the same thing."
And as someone who had worked in publishing for a long time, Gary's super smart, he's super accomplished, and he's one of those students of his game that he's always modeling, looking for the best practices everywhere. So, there's an infinite number of books that we've come up with. I mean, I can't tell you how many ideas we have and choose not to pursue.
But I loved this one because, even then in my limited experience, like eight years with the company, I knew that this was his secret. He is willing to take longer than anyone else to identify the biggest lever in his life, the number one priority, and he will give it disproportionate time and resources until that thing is amazing. And he will let brushfires burn, the house will fall down, whatever it is, he really is good at just zeroing in on that thing very intensely.
And I was like, "I love this." As a publisher, you line up all of your stories, you're not making anything up. You're not adapting yourself to this. This is just the essence of your success. So, Dave Jenks was with us back then. It was before he retired. We ended up spending about four-and-a-half years researching the book. We had two full time researchers at one point, tasked with finding stuff that lined up with our outline and stuff that refuted it. There were theories that we had that we cut just because the evidence didn't say it was true.
And so, he was very clear he didn't want it to be Gary's opinion, even though he had all this personal success. We don't love books like that. I like the validity it gives someone, but it's really nice to know that there's actual research out there that says anybody can do it too.
And about 2010-ish - I'm trying to think - maybe 2009, the Great Recession was happening. Maybe my dates are off. Go back a couple of years.
A little earlier.
Yeah. Yeah. Because I think we actually came out with SHIFT in 2009, so maybe it was 2008. We're just getting excited about this whole book and Gary just says, "I don't think this is our ONE Thing anymore. You know, our industry is in upheaval. The market is crashing. I think our ONE Thing is helping people navigate it." And so, the irony is we're writing a book about focus. We got distracted by a new priority.
Yes. Yes. And we spent about --
Rightfully so though.
Yes. It was the right move. That's actually a great example of your ONE Thing can change. And it was clear that the Great Recession, it was an existential crisis for the company, for our industry. We could have gone away.
For the world.
And so, we recentered. We wrote SHIFT in about six-and-a-half months, that's SHIFT: How Top Agents Tackle Tough Times. That went on to be a bestseller. And it was after that book got its footing, which was about a-year-and-a-half, we kept our researchers working that we came back to the room and finished the book.
But that's kind of the full tail of the stop/start nature of we had this idea, we were all really excited about it. We had to hit pause because the world declared that we had a new priority. But when we came back to it - it was just me and Gary then - we took all the research, and the actual writing and rewriting it was probably, like, a-year-and-a-half. The research was the biggest part.
So, in total from the time that you ideated it, so from the time that you said this is a book to the time that it actually got published, how long was that?
It was at least four-and-a-half, if not five years.
So, if I get my days right, it took you 100 days to write MREA, The Millionaire Real Estate Agent, it took you six-and-a-half months to write SHIFT, and then almost five years to write this which wasn't all just because of the market recession, it was also because of the time that you took to research. So, what about this was different for you?
Well, Gary has tremendous authority in the real estate industry. He's kind of an icon. He's won Most Innovative Player a few times in a year, all that stuff. So, he didn't have any validity issues in real estate. If we whipped up a book on real estate and had Gary Keller's name on it, people were going to buy it because they just knew his reputation and his expertise.
This was our first book stepping firmly outside of real estate. Does it apply to real estate? It applies to everything, which was almost a problem in itself. But we knew that we had to get it right, because when you step outside of your natural arena, you're in a whole new place and you have to prove yourself all over again. Which is one of the big reasons, like why should I care that Gary Keller was successful? I want to know that I can be successful with my software company, with my special operations team, whatever that is. So, we had to really, really fortify the book against potential criticism.
And it's interesting that that was the process here, because I see evidence of that in everything. I'm inside the Keller Williams ecosystem so I see it happening, but I see evidence of that in everything that's done.
So, you brought up earlier that the hiring process here is really intense, and even when I was coming on to the podcast, I gave you a little bit of pushback, I said, "Jay, you've known me for probably like a decade at this point, and you still made me go through this whole process to make sure that you were crystal clear on what I wanted to do, who I was, that this was the right fit."
And they did that for you and I have to imagine at some point you were thinking to yourself, "I've worked in publishing. I have all of this validity. And I'm signing up for a newsletter job. This feels unnecessary." And yet, you did the same thing to me, at least, when you did all of this research for the book. And what it says is that you're willing to take the time to understand the person, the problem, the research enough that when you actually put that opportunity out or when you put that finished product out, you know that you have the right people in the right places.
And so, I look up and say, Did you know when you went through that process and when you were starting at Keller Williams, could you have ever imagined that this would be the future of what you were able to do because they knew they chose the right person through taking their time to figure that out?
No. No. I mean, I wanted to do big things. Don't get me wrong, I wanted to do big things. I've always tried to do things well. And I don't know, I've been a goal achiever on some level, ran a marathon, ran with the bulls, traveled Europe, lived in Europe. If I want to do something, I create a plan and try to go do it.
But you don't plan for something that becomes kind of a phenomenon that Body-For-Life did. When we wrote that book, I couldn't stand it. It wasn't even a labor of love. I wasn't into weightlifting. The author was incredibly difficult to work with. It was a book that was pushed on us. But we did a good job and we learned a lot from it.
The ONE Thing, we were trying to design a million copy timeless bestseller, but there's no guarantee that it happens. Gary, if we're going to do something like that that takes so much effort, he wants it to stay in the market for as long as possible. We learned that already from The Millionaire Real Estate Agent. It just kept selling and kept selling because we got the pieces together and it felt kind of timeless.
So, I don't know, I feel like there's always a measure of intention and luck that comes in huge success. And I think with all of our big books, actually, I can look at almost every bestseller and see this, that there is all the craft that went into making it great, combined with some sort of tectonic shift in the culture that made that the message at that moment.
You know, James Clear wrote a fantastic book and he had been blogging about that for, like, eight years before he came out with it. COVID was the gift that he got, and nobody predicted that. But suddenly, everybody was at home, they had 40 minutes to an-hour-and-a-half that they used to have in their car on a commute, and they got to work on themselves. And a lot of people, whether they were buying a Peloton or whatever, said, I want to be a better person during this period. That was how they adapted. And he went from selling, like, 2,000 copies a week to 35,000 copies.
And so, I think some of that happened to us. Our book, The ONE Thing, came out. If you looked it up just a few years prior, the iPhone had come out and it was just then hitting full distribution. Students had it. Business people had it. And suddenly your office was in your hand, your schoolwork was in your hand, all of this, all of your world combined in this little device that you carried around with you everywhere you went. And suddenly we had no boundaries. Like, When am I at work? When am I at home? When am I not chatting with my friends on text? And people weren't prepared for it. Technology came at us faster than we could adapt.
And I think when people looked up and they saw a book called The ONE Thing, a white cover, it said here's something to simplify your life, here's something to make sense of all the chaos, and that was really the promise. And we wanted that but I don't think we understood the cultural kind of situation that that book would fall into. If we had rushed that book out and gotten it out in 2010 or something, I don't know that it would have been the hit that it was because everybody then was reeling, Are the banks going to fail? Am I going to lose my house? They weren't focused --
They weren't thinking about productivity.
Yeah. We came out in 2013 when most of that had worked its way through the system. We were still in that kind of languid period where it was like, Are we growing? Are we stagnant? It was no fun, but it wasn't bad anymore.
And so, again, I think if you show up and are focused on the right thing and you know what you want, like Gary says, you can't time the market, but you can stand on that corner and you know what you're looking for, and some day it will drive by. And I think that timing found us in this case.
Well, you talked about this tectonic shift that James Clear had, and you're right, the tectonic shift for The ONE Thing and for our world has been that we went from an era which people who are still working age went from an era where they weren't available all the time. When you clocked out, so to speak, you actually went home and people couldn't find you anymore, unless they were interrupting you during dinner, which didn't happen. And now we're available all the time.
If we choose to be.
Yeah, if we choose to be. There you go. That's the author speaking himself. If we choose to be, we are available all the time. We're always getting notifications. People can always find us. And so, The ONE Thing comes out. And I know that for a lot of people the first time they read it because we get these questions at the podcast at The ONE Thing email when people are starting to work through the practical application of this, they look up and they say, "It's impossible. It can't be one thing all the time."
So, when you're writing this, what was your experience? And I know you lived this and I know you were living it when you were writing it, too, because that's how you behave inside business and that's how you are authentic in what you do. So, when you're writing this, what was your challenge with actually using The ONE Thing?
Well, the gift I had is when I showed up at Keller Williams, I was given a notebook, just a spiral bound notebook, and they said, "When you're in meetings, you're expected to be an active learner. Have a pen, take notes. Yes, there will be things you don't understand, but you don't need to come back and say what happened in that meeting." And so, be present was kind of a theme even in our little small company.
And I was given a 411 document, and the 411 is a central tool. We don't talk about it a lot in the book, we mention it, but it is kind of goal setting to the now in miniature. Which is, one piece of paper with your annual goals at the top. Based on your annual goals, you create another little row that you put your monthly goals in. And then, each week you ask, based on my annual goals, what am I doing this month? And based on my monthly goals, what do I have to get done this week?
So, I've been doing one of those every week of my life in Keller Williams and when I showed up. So, I'd kind of already been living the process, breaking down big goals into actionable steps, knowing that my big rocks this week actually aligned with things that were in the distant future. So, my challenge was my world started to explode.
So, this is a phenomenon, right? If you actually hit big success, it's kind of like the technology metaphor earlier, things can happen to us faster than we naturally adapt. So, all the models I had for my life were around being a writer, working on manuscripts in a little office in Austin, Texas. And suddenly, we were getting invited on podcasts. I was invited to write books with other people, and forewords, and blurbs. And all of that comes at you when you get to be number one bestseller. And we were on the bestseller charts for ever and ever. We still are on some bestseller charts. And it was crazy.
I've been through it a few times. You're in this place in your life where the models you're running your life on worked. And if you are committed to growth, you go to this new level where everything breaks at the same time. So, I still had the tools, but I had to adapt them to a completely new environment.
And I remember I had a coach at that time. Coaches have been my saving grace. I had a guy named Glenn Neely - if you're listening, Glenn, hello - he was the only one of our real estate coaches that had a lot of experience in corporate America and he was also one of our top coaches.
And I said, "I need someone that can help me navigate my relationship with the executives and my conflicts between being an author and being an executive here." And he knew how to do that. And I remember him asking, "Jay, you've got all these opportunities in your life." I've been named a partner in a private equity firm. I had our publishing business that I co-owned with Gary. I had a speaking business that I ended up forming because Gary just said, "Look, take a vacation day." He's not going to go speak to audiences that aren't KW. I mean, he's been on, like, two podcasts in 11 years. Good ones, Tim Ferriss --
By the way, everyone just said challenge accepted so I think you probably just opened up --
He's been on this one. He's been on this one. But he generally sticks to his platforms because he's got a fiduciary duty to the people who are in business with him first and he takes that very seriously. So, with very few exceptions, I became, as the co-author, the face of the book in corporate America. And so, I formed a company for that.
So here I was, having only just had a few rental properties, suddenly, I've got a leadership role in multiple companies. And Glenn just said, "Let's use the book. What's the ONE Thing that you think you can do and make it a habit that will impact all of these companies?" And that was like a thought problem for me. And if you looked at my 411 today, some of the things we agreed upon back then are still on my 411, like, 11 years later.
And one of them was I had to build a network. The good thing about being an author, if you invite someone out to coffee, they're like, "Yeah. I want to tell you my story. Maybe I'll end up in a book someday." So, you get a lot more yeses than nos when you're networking. I don't like to go to conferences. Originally, I said I'm going to network, and the thought of going to conferences and being around a bunch of strangers just filled me with dread. Like I knew I would do it, but I wouldn't do a lot of it and wouldn't enjoy it. But I like one-on-one. I like to chat with people. I like to hear their story. I want to know how they're using the book. So, I set up a Wednesday morning habit where I would have coffee with a stranger.
So, those were the kind of adaptations, and there's a million of them, and they ended up like nothing happens in the first six months. But you look up 36 months later and you've got a database full of incredibly talented people that you can reach out to when you have questions. We hired so many of those people into our companies. We did partnerships with some of them. We invested in some of their companies. So, that was one of the the core activities that led me to the success I am today, and I think I started doing that in 2013.
You know, there's this interesting phenomenon that I see with people who are really successful and people who are trying to get there. There are so many books on how to be successful, on how to achieve, on how to go and build the life of your dreams. There are very few books on what to do when you get there. What happens when everything you ever dreamed of actually comes true?
And you're right, there's this tectonic shift in your life when all of a sudden you're living one life, and then, probably seemingly overnight for you, you're living an entirely different life. And in that chaos, you have to use these tools all the more clearly in how you're showing up in your day-to-day life.
And it's ironic that even as someone who wrote the book on it, you still have to be reminded, which I always bring to people, that this is an ever changing and an ever continuous process wherein you have to redefine what your focus is and ask yourself what your focus is, because it can change really rapidly when your life changes. So, you said the one habit that you started meeting with people.
Can I just interject real quick?
Just in case, because there's somebody out there going I'm not expecting anyone to be playing little tiny violins. All of those problems were good problems to have.
But I think it's a real --
But they are real problems and some people don't survive them. You see some authors that write a great book and they never write another one, because they spend all of their time living on the reputation of that book and then they don't get around to the next one.
So, I just want to clarify, I'm not in any way playing a victim card here. That's what I wanted. But sometimes when you get what you want, you've got a tiger by the tail and you don't exactly know what to do, and that requires you to adapt to remain successful. Sorry.
No, I think it's a really important conversation because so many people do get there and then they don't know what to do and then they go backwards. It's why so many people get that life and then, to your point, they're not able to evolve as quickly as they need to, to actually succeed there, and then be on that to go to the next level.
So, you had a coach ask you the great question, which is What is the ONE Thing? And the evolution for me in using The ONE Thing is something that you taught me, which is I always used to get stuck in what's your ONE Thing, and I would say to you, "Jay, I can't do one thing all day. It's impossible." And you would always say, "It's ONE Thing at a time. It's just ONE Thing at a time."
So, when you looked at your life and you have all of these categories, how are you defining that ONE Thing in each of those categories? And then, how are you moving through the day in order to maximize your potential in all of the things that you're involved in?
So, that's the number one complaint. Like there's a story I remember when we were trying to figure out what to name the book. We were debating between The Success Habit and The ONE Thing. And we had lived with originally, it was just called ONE or The Power of ONE. And people kept going, "Is that a religious book?" And I was like, "Okay. That's not what we're going for."
"We can't do that."
Not going there. I don't want to have people pick up the book and go, "This is not what I expected." But we felt like the one thing they would do after they read the book was ask, What's my ONE Thing? And, hopefully, they would build a habit around it.
And so, we took it to the book expo in New York and we had two posters up, and they were mock ups of the cover for the book coming out the next year, and we asked professional booksellers to tell us what they thought. And I think 80 percent of them said you got to call it The Success Habit. And some of them, and this is great, like the New York booksellers, they're like, "ONE Thing? Are you kidding me?" And they just ridiculed it. They're like, "No way. That's not possible. Nobody's got one thing. Success Habit, I'll buy that. That's a false promise. That looks like a crappy self-help book," whatever.
And we sit down and Ellen Curtis - at that time, I believe Ellen Marks before she got married - was our marketing director. And we're with our publisher and her and Gary and we're looking at the results. And he's like, "The results are pretty clear, like it's a resounding call it this thing." And I remember Ellen just said, "I don't know. The Success Habit, that just sounds hard. But I'm so overwhelmed all the time. If I see something called The ONE Thing, I'm like, 'Please tell me what that is.'"
Yeah. It helps me breathe.
Yes. So, anyway, I was keying off of all of those New York booksellers that were just ragging on us this idea that there was ONE Thing. I used the Seven Circles. It's the only page in the American white hardcover that I have memorized, page 114, and it's all the areas of your life that we felt like you could apply the book. And that was just one of those, we were editing the book, and it was supposed to be a business book, and I was like, "Gary, this is an approach you can use anywhere. Where else would we use it?"
And we kind of fell back on Quantum Leap, which is a course that Gary wrote, like, in the mid-90s, but it had these areas, your spiritual life, your health which is your physical and your mental health, your personal life, your key relationships, your job, your business, your money, those Seven Circles.
So, I use them for my goal planning. I usually ask the question, What's my ONE Thing in each of those areas? And over the years, we've built habits and rituals into our life. Not all at once, but we focus what is the area we need to work on now and what is the habit or ritual or system so that you put all this energy into building it and then the energy it takes to maintaining it is minimal. That's the great thing about when you build a power habit, it kind of works for you. You put in the investment and then it works for you. You get dividends for a long time.
So, I approach it that way. Like, I'm in my sandwich years now. I've still got kids at home. I've got aging parents, so does Wendy. We're dealing with getting people into homes, deaths of parents, all of that, and getting kids out the door to college. The idea that we only have one thing is ridiculous, but we have to ask, this year, what's the one thing we need to be doing with Gus in his first year of college? What's the one thing we need to be doing with Edward as he's a senior preparing to go to college? What do we do with my mom who lost my dad last year and got her own health issues? Wendy's dad?
We go through and say who are the key relationships that we would regret not having a plan around. And because it matters, we actually put a plan together. They're not always successful. We've been trying to get our youngest to get a driver's license for two years and he has zero interest. Feeling, I would really love to equip him to the world and know how to drive a car. That may not happen. He'll probably live in New York or something, I don't know. But we still come at it with a plan, like what do we think the big priorities are, and that helps us. And then, you know the process.
Then, we try to figure out which ones are we focusing on now? Can we build a system, a habit, or a ritual for it? And if we can do that, then for years - I mean, now we have one out. We still every night - one night of the week we have dinner at the table together. And that was something we really wanted to make sure that we were connecting with our kids, we had a gratitude habit attached to that. We just piggybacked things around central activities.
So, I don't know if that answers your question or not, because when you look at my life now, I've got, basically, 11, 12 years - so we were doing this before the book came out - of really purposeful activities and habits that we've kind of built in. And my job is just to follow my calendar and then make adjustments when those tectonic shifts come through.
Like just recently, I stepped back in two feet, jumped in the deep end with this business in addition to my job. That happens. If you're living a big life, big changes are going to come and you'll have to make adjustments.
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I think it's so important, Jay, because I do think so many people get stuck on this, and you did answer the question because you explained this so well. And this is the one thing that comes up for us when we're coaching people through it, which is they look at the Seven Circles and they're like, "Wait a minute. Well, you said the book was called The ONE Thing." And we Say, "Right. It's ONE Thing at a time."
And then, what I think most people miss, especially when you're building habits, and we talk a lot about that and you talk a lot about that in the book - I always say we now, because we're always having these conversations - it's this idea of building habits and when you identify The ONE Thing, it's okay. And in all of these areas of my life, if I could choose one habit, if I had to improve ONE Thing, if I had to build one habit, which one would be the leading domino to all the other areas of my life? You start there.
And then, you start looking at all the other places and you can have it stacked - that's something from Atomic Habits - you have it stacked in all of these other places.
What's that one habit that you've built? I know habits have been such an important thing in your life, but what's that one habit that you've built that has been the tectonic shift in your life?
I think it was - is it Duhigg, The Power of Habit? He came up with the idea of keystone Habits. So, the Keystone Habit is that foundational habit that really does seem to make everything else easier.
And I believe for me, gosh, we were doing it before the book was an idea. We just stumbled into it because we had little kids and we wanted to work out together. My wife and I built a practice of at least three times a week we would get up very, very early and work out together, and we still do this. Back in the day, the only time we could get a trainer into our driveway to do a CrossFit workout while our kids were safely in bed, we had to start the work out at 5:00 a.m. So, literally, we're setting an alarm for 4:40. Can I actually get up, get the sleep out of my eyes and stumble into the driveway to do burpees by then? But we'd have a baby monitor and we just knew that our kids were safely in their beds. And by the time we were done at 6:00 a.m., would be the time to start that morning.
So, we found a block of time that we could control, very inconvenient block of time, but it was one that we could commit to. There's no excuses. There's no show on T.V. There's no football game on. No one's calling us. There's no urgent email to answer. We only had one job, stumble into the driveway. And it was great. Our trainer back then said, "If I get up that early and you're not in the driveway, I'm going to bang on your window until you are." So, we actually kind of built accountability into it. And it was very expensive for us at that time in our lives, but it was a big investment we knew we wanted to make. We wanted to be healthy.
And so, there are so many benefits to working out. When you work out early in the day, like I would walk through the day with a kind of sense of righteousness. I was like, "I can have a cheeseburger. I mean, I did 50 burpees this morning in the driveway," whatever. It's like I felt like I'd done this thing that was already hard before most of the world was already awake. And it leads into your diet. It made us start going to bed earlier. It built sleep habits, diet habits, exercise habits that we still have today.
And here's the trick that I didn't count on, when you do hard things with your spouse on a regular basis - I don't know if it's Stockholm Syndrome or Foxhole Syndrome - there is a bonding that happens. That's a time for us when we can talk while we're working out, if we're not being pushed that hard. We work through our days. It ended up becoming this block of time that was for us. So, I can't tell you how many good things actually came out of that, but it's a lot. That's the first thing that comes to mind, that workout habit with my spouse has played so many dividends, I mean, I can't even tell you.
I want to talk about your and Wendy's relationship and a lot of the habits that you've built there. But before we get there, there's this commonality I see with you and so many of the successful people that I know, which is this idea of having a coach or an accountability partner.
And I think sometimes this feels counterintuitive when someone is listening to really successful people because they'll say, "You don't need that at this point. There's probably no one who needs to hold you accountable to your goals. You're going to go and achieve because you're an achiever." And yet you still have coaches in multiple areas of your life, you have a health coach, you have a business coach, you have a financial coach. Why all these coaches when you know what you're doing, Jay?
I have an accountability partner. I have the COO that I report to for my job. I have my business partner. I have multiple coaches or accountability partners. We ended up finding some great research that's in the book. The idea of writing down your goals is very important. I think it makes you, like, 35 percent more likely to achieve them. I believe it's not the act of writing it down. I know that when I have to write things down, I have to put my thoughts on paper, which means I have to get really clear about what I'm committing to. And I think that is the gift of writing down your goals. It's not that they're just suddenly in, you know, a Sharpie on a piece of paper. You have some measure of clarity that you didn't have before.
I'm trying to think of the university. I don't have this one memorized. But there was a researcher that looked at the results between people who wrote down their goals and those that on a biweekly basis just had to send someone else updates on their progress to their goals. And the people who had an accountability partner, that's what that is, on a very low level, they achieved their goals over 76 percent of the time.
Like twice as good as writing them down was having someone who was going to say, "Nikki, how are you doing on that?" And that sense of knowing that someone's going to ask, it's amazing how powerful it is. I think a lot of people resist it because this idea when you ask a kid what accountability is or this whole idea, they think of someone holding them accountable, a principal telling them what to do, something like that. As adults, nobody can do that, I'm sorry.
I know that I have a boss. And a lot of people have bosses, and a lot of people refuse to do what their boss tells them, and sometimes they lose their jobs over it because they're adults and that's their choice. What you can do is choose to be accountable to your goals, and that's the relationship you have. Because I'm accountable to these goals, they matter and I'm committed to getting there, I'm going to bring in an outside perspective to bring that extra dose of accountability.
I mean, come on, I will grant myself grace and say I don't need to work out today. What the hell? I'm going to break my diet.
I worked hard. I'll give myself a break.
Yeah, exactly. We will give ourselves grace because we're so aware of all the junk that we're dealing with, but this other person is removed from that. And we know, despite all of that, they're going to say "Well, those sounds like excuses. Why didn't you do it?" And they're going to ask a harder question of us. And it's just a gift, that's all I can say.
So, once I figured out what a relationship with a coach can look like, I've really became committed to always having one in my life. And people say, "Why would you pay for a coach when you've got Gary Keller?" And it's different. That relationship is different. I go to my coach and they are mine. They are on my dime. I'm paying for that relationship, which is weird, but I am paying for it and I'm going to extract every penny of value for it because I'm thrifty. You give me all you can eat buffet, I'm going to make you lose money. So, that's how I treat my coaching relationship. I want to get everything I can out of this relationship because I am committed, I am accountable to my goals.
Well, I think the key word everybody should hear there or the key phrase that you said, is that I choose to be accountable to my goals. It's always a choice. And to your point, as adults, no one can make us do anything, pretty much. It's that we choose to be accountable to this dream that we wrote up on the board, and that's the path to get there.
And you mentioned people saying "Well, you have Gary," and I know your relationship well enough to know that you both hold each other accountable. Can you walk me through how that relationship developed and how you have been able to do that? Because I know you've had to do that for each other as you've written all of these books together and have been partners over the years.
Well, this is tricky because he could listen to this, right?
We'll get him on and we'll confirm. We'll get his side of the story. Don't worry.
So, I believe that if you truly care about someone, you let them know if they've got spinach in their teeth. You tell them what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. And I think the challenge with someone who's as successful as Gary is, is they attract a lot of people who see him as "Gary Keller".
Yeah. It's the rock star syndrome.
Yeah. And he hears lots of compliments and not a lot of criticism. And my job is not to make him feel bad, don't get me wrong. But as his partner, I have a duty to say I don't understand why we're doing that. I usually phrase it as a question out of respect. He's got a lot more experience and a lot more success than I do.
Like, "Help me understand why we're doing that."
Basically. It's like, "I'm sorry. I'm lost." I learned when I was a kid I'm out behind the barn, which means you're lost. And I'm like, "What's going on?"
You and your phrases, Jay. That's the next book.
Yeah. "Why would we choose to do this instead of this?" And I force him to explain it. And sometimes he doesn't have an answer. He goes, "You know, you're right. We shouldn't be doing that." I remember we were rewriting an email, and it was an email that a copywriter in our marketing department should be writing, but we knew we could do it better. But I was like, "Gary, if this email doesn't get the results, who's responsible for that? Who do we hold accountable?" And he sat back from the keyboard and he said, "Okay. Send it back to marketing until they get it right. We're not going to proof it." And I said, "Yeah. That's right."
We shouldn't be spending our time on that. We should be forcing them to get the job done right, and then it's their words, their outcomes, and they can be accountable to that. So, I just kind of feel like my job - and Wendy does this to me. I try to do it with her as much as I can and still be married - is we tell each other what we need to hear, not what we want to hear. And so, that's how it's worked out for us.
I saw Kelly White - used to be Kelly Parham - she was one of the early employees, and I remember she would fight with Gary. And I would come home and I was like, "Wow. That's so weird. She's just fighting with the chairman of the board. They're arguing." And Wendy is the one who observes like, "Well, probably nobody else does that." And I said, "Yeah. He seems to really respect it in her." And that was the first person I saw doing it and then I saw a pattern, and the people that he kept closest were the people who would still challenge him, and I got to imagine that he values that.
And our saying is that It's a high clash of ideas, not a high clash of egos. So, as long as our ego is it's not about winning the debate, it's about getting the best idea, it's going to work well.
And part of the idea of The ONE Thing is that you can bring this into your world and into business to get clarity on pretty much anything. And what you just said there, which I think is important, is that the ONE Thing in asking the focusing question isn't always the easy way. Sometimes we perceive it to be this thing that creates clarity and we're like, "Okay. We're going to be able to just go and do that ONE Thing and everything's going to be easy. No mess created."
And I try to remind people to that point, that process of you sending that email back to marketing probably took longer to get the job done in the end. It would have been faster and easier, by the way, if you had just rewritten it because that's your superpower. And yet, in order to hold that team accountable, in order to make sure that you're clear on standards, you had to send it back, which probably elongated it by however long and kept it at the top of your head before you got it back.
And for impatient achievers, that's painful.
Very painful, by the way. And I would offer of the many things that you've taught me, this is something I'm so grateful that you've taught me, which is, sometimes the ONE Thing causes us to slow down and to do it the right way so it doesn't always actually feel like it's faster.
The ONE Thing is almost always the hard thing that you would rather avoid. It's the truth. That's the nature of big things is, usually, the reason everybody doesn't do them is there's some inherent challenge, something uncomfortable that's a part of it that keeps most people from doing it. They postpone it. They do all the little things around it.
I don't know who said it, I think it's the guy who's big into artificial intelligence. If someone tells you your task is to get a monkey to quote Shakespeare on a pedestal, don't start with the pedestal, that's the easy part. And a lot of people go out there and they want to be able to demonstrate they're making progress to their boss, "Look. Look at this beautiful pedestal that I made." "Yeah. But is that monkey any closer to quoting Shakespeare?" That's the hard thing is getting that thing to happen. Focus on that first. Because if you can't do that, the pedestal is meaningless.
And so, leaning into the hard thing, doing that thing that other people don't choose to do is almost always the recipe. And it just sucks. It just sucks.
Well, you called it the extraordinary simple path to results, not the easy one. And Gary says this all the time, It's simple. It's not easy. And it is often the hard thing. And I think the biggest challenge in business is, to your point, someone comes back and says, look at this beautiful pedestal. And then, if their leader, their boss in this scenario isn't also clear on what everyone is trying to achieve, then they'll be like, "Great job on that pedestal." And that's how companies get in chaos and don't move forward. And that's what we see in people's practical application of this and why it's so important to have clarity as a team.
It happens all the time. It happens in our business. Like pedestal building, people are demonstrating progress but they're majoring in the minors. They're doing all the little things that don't actually add up. They've got beautiful spreadsheets, beautiful presentations, but they're not taking the core action that gets them where they want to go. It always comes down to did you time block the activity that will actually yield you the greatest progress? That's the thing that you have to do first. And if you do that, it really does make everything else easier. I wish it made them unnecessary, but in business, you still probably have to do them. But maybe you're doing so well at that thing, you can afford to have other people do those things.
Right. I always tell people it's not that those things don't matter. It's that they don't matter at the expense of what actually matters most. And then, it's everyone getting an agreement on what does, in fact, matter most. Are we all pointing the same direction?
So, you write this incredible book, becomes a bestseller, sells millions of copies, more than you probably imagined, even wanting to create an evergreen book. And then, you say, well, that's not enough. Now, I'm going to create a whole training company around it to teach people how to apply this. Because reading the book isn't enough. It really requires practical application. So, walk me through that --
And often guide.
Yeah, and really most often a guide. So, walk me through that journey.
So, I think I remember it started - I'll give Lewis Howes credit. I was on Lewis Howes podcast in the hundreds back, he was big, but he wasn't who he is today. And we kind of hit it off and he circled back to me when he wrote his first book, and he was saying like, "Do you know any ghost authors?" I think Ryan Holiday actually helped him out on his first book. But he had this huge machine. He had a giant podcast. He was selling online courses, all the things. And his whole thing was, "But I don't have a book to anchor it."
And then, I had a similar conversation with a guy named Pat Flynn - if you know him - he's another big person in the creator space, helps a lot of people launch businesses. Same thing, had all of this huge success, but he was like, "I need to get a book."
And my aha was, we've been writing the books, but we haven't been doing all the other business things that people do with the book to fully make them go out in the world. Frankly, it's a business opportunity. So, I actually found it. The other day, I was cleaning out my office, it was like a 15 page PowerPoint. You know with Gary, whenever we go into something, he wants to know the entire history of it. So, the first page is a timeline of all the technology that authors have used going back to, like, stone tablets and the printing press. But then, you get to the other side and they have podcasts and they have blogs.
And I was like, "Look, this is the evolution of how people with a voice have magnified it." And I just pointed out to him and said, "Here are all the things that exist right now that we're not doing at all." And he said, "Well, let's do this." And this would have been in 2014. He said, "Let's do it. We'll go into it. We'll be 50-50 partners." I was like, "Yay. I'll get started tomorrow." He goes, "No, you won't." I was like, "What do you mean?" And he goes, "Well, you're not doing it. You've got your ONE Thing, but there is someone out there for whom this is absolutely the blessing for them. The thing that they've been waiting their whole life, go find that person."
So, my ONE Thing, going back to that habit of meeting people, was to find that person. So, just so happened, Jeff Woods had been in medical sales. And when I spoke at his company, he literally followed me all the way. I had to get in one of those town cars to get to the airport to get back home. He followed me all the way and practically got in there and saying he wanted me to be on his podcast. So, we traded contact information, I got on his podcast. I think it was about mentorship back then. I can't remember the name of it. He kicked me in the shin for that. But he had a really cool idea, he wanted to have better mentors, so he was just getting people on his podcast basically to mentor him publicly.
And we connected in the summer of 2015. I was still looking and he called up and he just said, "How can I be of service? What are you looking for? Who are you looking for?" Whatever that is. And I just said, "Well, you know, I'm actively looking for someone -" and the version then was a little different "- to start this thing around the book." And he goes, "I might know someone." And what he didn't tell me is that someone was him. He had to go ask permission of his wife. And he came back and he goes, "I would like to apply for that job."
So, I took him through the process, and in the fall of 2015, he joined the team. He moved to Austin. And his original game plan to see if he was the right person, I gave him a goal, in 90 days or 100 days back then, I think that was the current method, he had to create a five year business plan that Gary would approve. So, can he demonstrate he can have vision? Number two, he had to generate $100,000 in income in the first 100 days. And three, eventually, he had to prove that he could actually attract talent. But I said, "I'm not going to let you hire talent in the first 90 days because if you don't work out, then I'm stuck with people that don't have a leader, so we're going to focus on the first two."
He got a plan approved. We came down here actually in another part of the room. We built our first course. And because we screwed up, we sold it as 100 people and 100 people only would get this $1,000 course. That was how we were going get to 100,000. So, like, right at the end of the 100 days, we put it up for sale and we didn't set up the website right, so we actually had 330 people put their credit cards down.
For something that you only plan to have 100 people for?
Yes. And it was like an ethical dilemma. And I was like, "Okay. This is a lesson for me and it's a lesson I can impart on him." Do we chase greed at the expense of our integrity? You know, we said we could have three cohorts. We'll just do three at the same time. And we couldn't figure out how to make that work and it didn't feel right. So, we ended up picking the first 100 people and told the rest of them that they would get a discounted one later after we'd gone through the first ten weeks.
So, one of them dropped out, so he ended up making $99,000 in 100 days, and I kept him anyway. But that was kind of the start of the company. We started it as a course business, worked on that, and then about a year or two later added a community, the podcast, and then built into where we are today.
Which includes coaching and --
Coaching, group coaching, corporate training, which is something that I hadn't seen any of my creator friends do. Like they did keynotes, but we had a process and a process that I knew would yield huge results. And I was like, everybody is going B2C, let's go B2B, too, and figure out which one is the platform. We weren't sure. Is it B2C that would lead to B2B or B2B that would lead to B2C? But we were like, we're going to figure it out so that we can do both and that they're like dominoes.
Well, what I think what's so interesting about your and Gary's journey is that so many people, to your point, they start with I'll create courses and I'll create a following and then I will write a book and then I will start a business. Whereas, you and Gary, Gary started Keller Williams, built a huge business, and then you came in and said I want to write and want to be of service to this community and also create courses.
So then, you started writing books that would serve the real estate community, and then got into writing a book that would help other people outside of that, and then got into course writing, which then lends itself to something like corporate training where you look up and say we actually know how to build and scale really big businesses and how to do it in a way that gets everybody on the same page.
And so, when you're having those conversations and when you've taken this to other businesses, what do you see as someone who is obviously so experienced in building this out in an actual practical application, where do you see most people struggling when you go into other large corporate companies?
I think the biggest challenge is a lack of clarity, and that comes two ways. I think that these big companies have quarterly goals and they have public accountability, but they can be so big that those goals, as they cascade through the system, nobody really knows their part of it. And you look at their business plans and they unpack them in January and they're 50 pages long.
And because of that, when I see a long business plan, I see lots of places to hide. A long business plan, a big complex one, to me, it's like a jungle that you can hide a jaguar in. It's just dangerous. I hate it. It just immediately repels me. The whole idea of our one page business plan, the GPS, is everything's on one page. That's literally how you get everybody on the same page.
I went into this huge biotech company. They had this giant, giant plan, and all the senior leaders were aware of it, but they were struggling. Like, How do we communicate success? How do we get all of this out? And I just said, "Turn it over," and I went to the whiteboard and I said, "Based on everything that you know, because you've digested the complexity, if you could only get one thing accomplished this year to hit this profit goal, what would it be?"
And without hesitation, the leader said, "Well, what about this?" And I said, "Great." And then I said, "How will I know you're successful?" Because you wrote a goal and it was kind of an objective, and I said, "Well, we would do this many widgets in this amount of time at this much profitability." It's like, great, boom, that's number one.
If you nail that, just nailed it and could get another thing done that would help you hit that objective, what would it be? Again, no hesitation, like three people said it at the same time. I was like, "Great. Let's make that an accountable goal." We wrote it out. And we ended up with four. Usually, it's one big goal and three priorities. But it's a huge company, so they had four. I said, "Great. Now, let's go through each of these." And we just kind of methodically worked it through and they were just sitting back going, "Oh, my gosh. It's actually so simple."
But all of their real priorities were hiding in this maze of a business plan that they could actually couldn't communicate it. And when people don't know what to do, they're just going to do what they think is good. But now they would have clear accountability. And that really changed their trajectory that year. And I ended up going back to that company five or six more times. It was great and it was just a good success story.
But I think lack of clarity is the number one. And we have the tools to help people get there. If they have clarity, they haven't done the second part, which is get it really focused on what are the activities that drive the outcome. So, they lack clarity, they lack focus around that clarity. I know where I want to go, but I need what are the activities that get me there.
There's only four of these mistakes that I see - I just know this now - I start asking questions to see, Where is it? Are they clear? Are they focused in their activities? Are they giving people control of their time, time blocking to actually do those things? And in big companies, they're meeting to death. Meeting to death. Even small companies. Because managers, their whole job is to observe and hold people accountable. And the easiest way to do that is get a bunch of people on a Zoom call or in a room and ask them how they're doing. And if they do that enough, there's no time for doing.
Which is why you have so many parents that put the kids to bed and then break out their laptop at 9:00 to actually do the core work that they can't figure out how to do at the office. I could go into lots of solutions for that, we don't have to go into it. I mean, I know huge companies that have meeting free zones so that people can do the hard work of creating and doing, and managers aren't allowed to do things in those periods of time. So, they set rules up to make that happen.
And the last one, they're not protecting it. They put their calendar blocks on paper and then they don't actually know how to defend it with nos. And so, every quarter, they end up getting a brand new plan and they build momentum.
So, that's like my four step diagnosis. Are you actually clear about what you want? Are you focused about how the activities that get you there? Now, are you allocating time, your number one resource, to make that happen and then protecting it?
I think this is so important, Jay. I think it's a Tony Robbins quote, he says, Complexity is the enemy of execution.
And this is what we see in most companies that we come into, it's that no one is actually clear. They know what they do, but no one is actually clear on how they're going to achieve what the greater goal under the umbrella of what they do is. And then, if you're not clear on that, you can't inform any of the other decisions.
And there's a meme going around on social media, I don't know if you've seen it, but it's like, when you're in the early stages of your career, you want to be in the meeting so bad and then you're excited to get into the meeting. And then, you're in the meeting and you would do anything legal or otherwise to get out of the meeting. And that is the evolution in business where you just get meeting to death and we're all trying to figure out what it is that is going to move us forward without an actual clearer path to be able to get there.
Can you name a single person in all of your connections that was ever given a raise in promotion for perfect attendance to meetings?
I can't name one.
No. That doesn't exist. It doesn't. But yet, we end up prioritizing being seen pedestal building, to go back to our earlier conversation, look at my plan, look at my Asana board, look at my Trello board, whatever that is, and they're not doing the actual work to get it there. The people who actually, "Hey, I'm sorry. Can you take notes for me in that class? I'm actually going to go do the paper." The people who figure out how to navigate that so they do the things are the ones that actually get ahead. So, how do we make that part of the culture where doing versus talking about doing becomes the objective?
And I think that this is why so many companies do bring us in because one person is exposed to the book or one person or a couple of people read the book and want to start on this path. But you said it earlier, that you have to then protect the time block. And if you don't have everyone on the same page and if you don't have everyone practicing these types of tools, well then, it's easy to get taken off course or it's easy to get frustrated with the people that you're working with. Do you see that?
Yes. And I'm glad that you said it that way. I was preparing to have to contradict you if you say it's not possible.
It's fully possible.
It is possible. You have to decide to go ahead and be successful anyway. And the question I ask - I'm just a mid-level manager - how can I create change in this giant organization? And I said, by demonstrating you get better results than everyone else. That's how you do it.
So, do you have time in your day that you can protect to make the things happen that you know should be happening but aren't today? And sometimes the answer is no. And they actually have to come in to work an hour early or they're working at home before anybody else is working because that's the only time they can start proving that they're the one or the team or the group or the division that can make a difference. But at a certain point, leaders, they want outcomes. When they see the outcomes happening, they will pivot towards them.
So, I ended up getting called into an organization because they had 25 sales teams. It was a medical sales group. And they had a team that was in the bottom of the bottom quartile going into the end of the third quarter. And the leader of that group read our book and he made a bet. He was like, "We're already failing." So, they said, instead of us doing all the things, we're going to focus on selling one product and we're going to focus on one customer. And by the end of the year, they went from the bottom quartile to the top three in the whole company. And that got everybody's attention. And suddenly they were like, "How do we teach this to every sales team?"
But that's a core example. They had to go a little rogue. They had to make a bet on themselves and then step outside of the normal boundaries. If you want to do extraordinary things, you're not going to do them in an ordinary way. And I can think of case study after case study where that's happened. And so, yeah, just find the time.
I don't know if you were there when Ryan Holiday was talking about, I think, it was Toni Morrison, the author and she was an editor. Or maybe I'm mixing him up, but I think it was Toni Morrison. She's a single mom with two kids. And for her to actually write the novels that made her an award winning novelist, her take away was, I have to have all my writing done before the first kid says mama. Meaning, she was just getting up really early in the beginning to lay the foundation for what her career would become. And that's sadly the case for some of us. I wish I could say do it on your lunch break. Probably not going to be enough.
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