Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less – Greg McKeown

Here are my comments on the book:

Why is less more? Greg McKeown, public speaker, leadership and business consultant, author, and founder and CEO of a leadership and strategy design agency based in Silicon Valley called THIS, Inc., states that doing fewer things with laser-like focus will get you greater results than doing more things with less focus. By adopting the essentialist’s way of thinking, you’ll be able to take back control of your own life and do things that will push you forward to living an active life rather than a reactive life. By consistently saying ‘yes’ to everyone’s request, you’re living out the other person’s dreams rather than your own. Stop saying yes to everything and everyone and start living your life on your terms, not other people’s. Here are some points to the book:


1. There’s a notion that in order to become successful or to make it, you need to take on as much as you can. However, this is actually contrary to what a lot of self-made successful people do. In the book The One Thing by Gary Keller, Keller addresses how focus and mastery on a specific thing is what gets you to levels of success. Think for a second on those who are self-made successful people. I’m quite positive that these people are only known for only one industry or niche. Bill Gates is in the computer software industry, Warren Buffett is in value investing, Oprah Winfrey is in media, Albert Einstein is in mathematics and physics, Tiger Woods is in golf and the list goes on. I’m sure that there are exceptions to this but they’re the very few who have been able to master various industries or niches and have become very successful. Don’t believe the hype, cut out the extras and focus on just the essentials. The idea that we can have it all and do it all is not new. This myth has been peddled for so long, I believe virtually everyone alive today is infected with it. It is sold in advertising. It is championed in corporations. It is embedded in job descriptions that provide huge lists of required skills and experience as standard. It is embedded in university applications that require dozens of extracurricular activities. What is new is how especially damaging this myth is today, in a time when choice and expectations have increased exponentially. It results in stressed people trying to cram yet more activities into their already overscheduled lives. It creates corporate environments that talk about work/life balance but still expect their employees to be on their smart phones 24/7/365. It leads to staff meetings where as many as ten ‘top priorities’ are discussed with no sense of irony at all. The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years. Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities. Illogically, we reasoned that by changing the word we could bend reality. Somehow we would now be able to have multiple ‘first’ things. People and companies routinely try to do just that. One leader told me of his experience in a company that talked of ‘Pri-1, Pri-2, Pri-3, Pri-4, and Pri-5.’ This gave the impression of many things being the priority but actually meant nothing was.


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2. You have more control over what you choose to do than you think you do. If you believe that you don’t have the choice to live the life you want, that’s called Learned Helplessness which was coined by Martin Seligman as stated in his book Learned Optimism. Stop with the excuses and helplessness as to why you can’t live the life you want it to. No one’s got a gun to your head telling you to live the life that you’re currently living. For change to happen, first change must happen. I have observed learned helplessness in many organizations I have worked with. When people believe that their efforts at work don’t matter, they tend to respond in one of two ways. Sometimes they check out and stop trying, like the mathematically challenged child. The other response is less obvious at first. They do the opposite. They become hyperactive. They accept every opportunity presented. They throw themselves into every assignment. They tackle every challenge with gusto. They try to do it all. This behavior does not necessarily look like learned helplessness at first glance. After all, isn’t working hard evidence of one’s belief in one’s importance and value? Yet on closer examination we can see this compulsion to do more is a smokescreen. These people don’t believe they have a choice in what opportunity, assignment, or challenge to take on. They believe they ‘have to do it all.’


3. Bruce Lee has two famous quotes that are founded on the principles of essentialism which are “It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.” and “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” Become a master of cutting down on the essentials on a daily basis and practice that “one kick” 10,000 times and you’ll achieve more than you believe you can. Peter Drucker, in my view the father of modern management thinking, was also a master of the art of the graceful no. When Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the Hungarian professor most well known for his work on ‘flow,’ reached out to interview a series of creative individuals for a book he was writing on creativity, Drucker’s response was interesting enough to Mihaly that he quoted it verbatim: ‘I am greatly honored and flattered by your kind letter of February 14th—for I have admired you and your work for many years, and I have learned much from it. But, my dear Professor Csikszentmihalyi, I am afraid I have to disappoint you. I could not possibly answer your questions. I am told I am creative—I don’t know what that means.… I just keep on plodding.… I hope you will not think me presumptuous or rude if I say that one of the secrets of productivity (in which I believe whereas I do not believe in creativity) is to have a VERY BIG waste paper basket to take care of ALL invitations such as yours—productivity in my experience consists of NOT doing anything that helps the work of other people but to spend all one’s time on the work the Good Lord has fitted one to do, and to do well.’ A true Essentialist, Peter Drucker believed that ‘people are effective because they say no.’


By Ryan Timothy Lee


Thank you for reading! Please share this post with someone who you think will benefit from it. If you have any book requests/recommendations, I’d love to hear them out so please let me know through an e-mail at Also join my Facebook group here, to receive updates on future posts.


My rating:
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Check out the book here:
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