What’s the one thing…

Wouldn’t it be great if there really was just one secret you had to know, and all your professional or entrepreneurial dreams would come true? Then you wouldn’t have to bother trying what works for your or your domain. You’d just have to apply The Secret, and voila!

Needless to say, if there is such a unifying secret, I haven’t found or heard of it. And yet, I keep seeing this false hope powering one of the most common questions I get in interviews: What’s THE ONE THING that you’d tell your younger yourself/other entrepreneurs/new programmers?! This is followed by the breathless anticipation of whatever profound wisdom the questioner most wish they could glean from my life’s experiences.

The boring truth is that the big leaps are all the result of an interwoven tapestry of practices, each contributing a strand of progress or insight. If you pull just one, all you have is that thin, disconnected strand. It’s only together the colors come alive.

That’s why all the books Jason and I have written together really are just a collection of essays. Yes, there’s a theme, but no single, unlocking narrative. REWORK is 88 separate essays, It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy At Work has 66.

As long as you’re stuck on a quest for that one super-power practice or North Star principle, you’re not going to make space in your brain for the fact that no individual secret is going to make the difference. Only compound wisdom will.

8 thoughts on “What’s the one thing…

  1. I will say that the collection of essays format used in Rework, IDHTBCAW, and Remote is one of the reasons I revisit them for a fresh read so frequently. Usually when I go through a book, I’m lucky if I can find one or two bites of advice I can hold my focus on long enough to try putting into practice. Rereading Rework, or it’s siblings, I typically find an essay that catches my attention over all the others and it tends to change with each reading.

    So it’s not about finding the “one thing”; it’s about finding the “one thing I need most right now”.

  2. Their first book „Getting Real“ is at least as profound.

    Besides this insight, what helped me very much, is the realization that even the successful companies just figure it out as they go.

  3. Hey, a meta question – as an author, do you feel the need to know in how far a particular article has resonated with the readers? When I read an article I enjoy, I feel the need to communicate to the author, that I see benefit in what they’ve produced. However, I don’t want to comment, as I currently don’t have anything to say, that will provide additional value. I think it makes sense to have some kind of Kudos / Clap / Like button, that would allow sending tiny signals of ackowledgments to the authors (by the way, I know you’ve written an article on this very topic a while back, but I couldn’t find it).

  4. I think for a lot of people, this would be the one thing. No silver bullet, etc. Younger people keep looking for “the answer” because they haven’t yet learned that there isn’t one. Exception that proves the rules I guess.

  5. Thanks for writing this essay, DHH. I certainly have been guilty of asking this in the past. The structure of this question may not be that different from asking others their favorite book/music/movie. One problem with asking this is there is no one favorite because chances are less that we may have a true favorite.

    Going back to your essay, I think there is relevance in asking something like this — what’s an insight you have gained recently or what is something you have learned off late or what was the last book you read that you enjoyed reading. I find it way easier to respond to these questions.

  6. Maybe the one thing would be “I’m not sure where to start.” Then I’d walk away.

  7. Ah! The ‘essay’ route just opened my eyes. Who cares for long chapters over a topic to be revealed in the conclusion (hence why I always read the last few pages of a book – to evaluate if I will make it to the end ah!).

    Best? Word bites – written furiously with passion in the contextual instant brimming with new insights. This model ‘confirms’ my direction and appetite for short and smart.

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