Category: Laws to Live by

Parkinson’s Law

Back in 1955 a British naval historian by the name of Cyril Northcote Parkinson wrote his first article on what would eventually become Parkinson’s Law which states the following: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for it’s completion”…without producing significantly better results.

The basic idea here is this…don’t take 30 days to do something that can be done almost as well in 24 hours. Work will always expand to meet the hours in a day that you give it. So, work with a deadline, even if it is an artificial one. Shrink your timelines…constraints are a good thing…they force you to do more with less.

So, the next time you are given a project, severely shrink your timelines and you will be shocked at what you can achieve. You can see this in practice every day by all of the greatest companies and inventors…Elon Musk with SpaceX and Tesla, Jeff Bezos at Amazon, etc. One of the greatest inventors ever even took it a step further…Thomas Edison would talk about his ideas to the media before they were even ready…this would force him to get after it and stay on task.

So, continually apply Parkinson’s Law to find the shortest feasible path to completion, given the necessary trade-offs required by the work. Soon, you’ll be wondering what to do with all of your free time! Here’s one of the best posts I feel I’ve written on how to Get To It!


Small Wins

One of my favorite articles was written in 1988 on the power of small wins. You can read it in its entirety here…

Small Wins by Karl E. Weick

Others have written articles on the same subject, but this one is my favorite.

The overall idea is that taking small bites out of a bigger more daunting challenge will get you where you want to go, whereas just trying to jump to the top in one giant stroke is near impossible. Here are some examples of this in practice:

  • Sobriety: AA focuses on staying sober one day at a time.
  • In sports, equivalents are baseball singles instead of home runs, in football first downs instead of hail mary’s. In basketball, one year Pat Riley asked each player on his team to get just 1% better in five different categories…seems small enough but by getting each of his players to slightly up their game they won the title the next year.
  • Consider the challenge of counting sheets of paper: if you are counting 1000 sheets of paper with periodic disruptions, you may get to 888 and have to start all over. If instead you break it into 10s or 100s, an interruption doesn’t set you back near as much

Deliberately going after small wins reinforces the perception that people can exert some influence over what happens to them and produces change of manageable size that serves as an incentive to keep going. It is initially less stressful and over time builds significant traction. Small wins are easier for people to work toward. If you break down the big problem into a series of small wins:

  • Not near as much fear of failure as failures are less important
  • It reduces the pressure (“just do this one small thing, not a giant one”)
  • No fear of lack of skills (I can do this by myself… I have the ability)

A small win by itself may seem unimportant, however a series of wins at small but significant tasks reveals a pattern that may attract allies, deter opponents, and lower resistance to subsequent proposals. Additional resources also flow toward winners.

Small wins are easier to comprehend and digest. Once a small win has been accomplished forces are set in motion that favor another small win. When a solution is put in place the next solvable problem often becomes more visible. This occurs because new allies bring new solutions with them and old opponents change their habits. I recently watched the movie the Martian and this was his game plan when stranded on Mars, “That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math, you solve one problem. Then you solve the next one, and then the next and if you solve enough problems you get to come home.”

Consider also, that a small win is also someone else’s small loss, the stakes are reduced, which encourages the losers to bear their loss without disrupting the social system. If you take a small win from Amazon or Apple, the may not notice, but boldy attack their core business and you may awaken a giant. Big wins can lead to unexpected negative consequences and big countermeasures.

Finally, just get started, because you can’t plan it all out. Careful plotting of a series of wins to achieve a major change is impossible because conditions do not remain constant. Go for the first win and see where that leads. String a couple together and you may start an avalanche! Get Started!

1% Better Every Day = 38X Better in Just One Year

The Japanese use a term called “Kaizen” that is translated as “continuous improvement”. The idea is to achieve small, incremental changes in processes in order to improve overall efficiency and quality. I love this idea that really small improvements every day (baby steps) can produce such enormous results over a short period of time.

Consider this…if your only goal is to just get 1% better every day than you were the day before, after just one year you will be 38 times better!! It may not feel like much on Day 2, 3, or 4, but on day 365, look at your result…WOW!


What is it you can focus on to just get 1% better every day that will pay huge dividends? Get started!

1,000 True Fans

I didn’t come up with this one. This comes from a wonderful post by Kevin Kelly here.

The gist of the idea is that if you want to be successful in any endeavor: artist, entrepreneur, musician, etc. you don’t need 1 million customers or followers, you just need to acquire 1,000 true fans. The emphasis is on “True” fans…that doesn’t mean all 1,000 worship every thing you do, but in general they are willing to buy what you are selling and they are more than happy to help spread the word because they love it so much.

Obtaining 1,000 fans isn’t an easy quest (although the internet has helped substantially in creating direct relationships with your fans all around the globe), but once you’ve gotten there, you know you’ve hit on something good.

Go find those 1,000 fans!


Choose Just ONE Metric

In the words of the Highlander, “There can only be one” or from Jack Palance’s character in City Slickers, “Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean —-.”

The point is if you give your team too many metrics to chase or different metrics for different folks , everybody isn’t pulling in the same direction. So, just pick one thing for your entire team to focus on: Profit $, Acquiring New Customers, Revenue, whatever, but make sure there is no question in your organization what it is and everybody is doing everything they can to head toward that goal.

Just One Thing!!


Think Twice Before Lowering Prices

Sometimes it feels easy to do what the customer asks and just cut a price a bit. So what if you shave a bit of profit off of your current business, you’re sure you will make it up in volume. Well, let’s see how much volume increase is needed to offset a cut in price starting with say a baseline of $15 with 50% margin…

Cost Cut Volume Increase Needed

…if you decrease the margin from 50% to 45%, you have to grow revenue by 22%. If you decrease by the margin from 50% to 40%, you have to grow revenue by 50%!! On the other hand, if you can manage to increase your pricing marginally, you can decrease revenue quite a bit and still maintain profitability.

Keep this in mind the next time someone says, “Hey, old buddy, old pal, can you hook me up with a little better price?”