The myth of doing “that one thing” / Hi, I'm Leo

screen-shot-2012-08-22-at-9-09-33-pm-7368080Over the last two years since I’ve been working on Buffer, there is one particular theme that keeps coming up over and over. It is in fact so consistent both in my own actions and other startups and founders that I work with, that I felt it finally deserved a full post.

It is the myth of being able to do one thing, that one thing, that will put you, your career or your startup to the next level. That one magic action or event, that will all of a sudden flick a switch and change things forever.

I remember one (other) particular email conversation I had with Noah Kagan, founder of AppSumo, where I fell into the “one thing trap” as I did so many times. I asked him this:

“What was the most valuable user acquisition strategy for Mint after you have hit 100K users?”

Noah replied this:

“the crappy answer is a few things:

1- infographics

2- pr

3- winning tc40

4- sharing data to get tons of articles

5- having a great product that was 100% free.”

As Noah is a humble guy, he wrote “crappy”, when really, this is not crappy at all.

It is rarely the case of being able to do “just one thing” that will automatically move the needle and have our startup succeed. What comes much closer to the truth I believe is to have lots and lots of different smaller things, that all add up to give you a bigger, successful outcome.

That one interview, that one write-up, that one investor

These are the different examples that come to mind that I had in my head the most: “If we only get TechCrunch to write about us. If we only get this app to integrate with Buffer. If we only get this one investor on board. If we could only get this one big Twitter user to send one Tweet about us.” If only one of these things will happen to us, we will be saved and everything will be successful.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case. You get that one TechCrunch write-up and you learn, it doesn’t bring you anything else than a few hundred users. That one integration actually only has limited impact, with that one investor you still have 5 others to go.

The trouble is, you get caught up and so obsessed doing that one thing that you stall. You turn towards coming across as desparate and any development deal, talk with reporter or investor ends up in you begging on your knees. I did this many times, and it’s not a great approach.

Instead, what I’ve learnt is that there should be lots of different aspects you are working on at the same time, it means trying to get a large volume of write-ups, a large volume of integrations, a large number of investors.

Why? Because it all comes down to Ira Glass’s words about “doing a huge volume of work”.

Ira Glass’s law of doing a huge volume of work

The following video from Ira Glass, an American radio and TV host, is one that I have watched dozens of times and I hope you can check it out too. It explains everything without any further explanation needed:

Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.

This is the most important part I believe:

“There is a gap. That for the first couple of years, that you are making stuff, what you are making isn’t so good. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not that good.” […]

“The most important, possible thing you could do is to do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. Because it’s only by actually going through a volume of work that you are actually going to catch up and close that gap.”

Frankly, it took me a long time to admit this and to understand it. It is so easy to put your finger down on something and say “this one thing, if I get this right now, everything will change”. It is absolutely tempting and comforting for your head. Unfortunately, it’s not what will get you to the next level.

Have you ever been trapped by having to “just do that one thing”? I would love to hear your experience on this.

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