motivation

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The One Thing" by Gary Keller. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What motivational success stories illustrate the principle of the One Thing? How has a narrow focus spurred success in real life?

In his book The One Thing, Gary W. Keller shares several motivational success stories that all have one thing in common. Each success came about because of a focus on One Thing. The One Thing is different in each story, but the common denominator is a focus on one thing at a time.

Keep reading for motivational success stories.

Motivational Success Stories

Focusing on One Thing instead of many things brings success. Motivational success stories that prove this are abundant. The One Thing spurring success can be a product, person, passion, or life purpose.

One Product

Hugely successful companies focus on one product or service:

  • Colonel Sanders concentrated on one product, fried chicken made with a secret recipe, to create KFC.
  • The Coors Company grew 1,500% from 1947-67 with a single beer made at one brewery.
  • Starbucks focused on One Thing—coffee.
  • Google focused exclusively on search, which allowed the company to make a fortune selling advertising.

Successful businesses continually ask themselves, “What’s our One Thing?” because it has to evolve in response to competition, technology, and consumer demand.

Apple focused on one exceptional product at a time, moving from the Mac, iMac, iTunes, and iPod, to the iPhone and then iPad. If your business doesn’t know what its One Thing is, then its One Thing or focus should be determining what that is.

One Person

Motivational success stories show us that no one succeeds totally alone. Many of those who’ve achieved exceptional success can cite one person who made the difference by pointing them in the right direction—for instance:

  • Walt Disney’s brother Roy, a businessman, got him a job at an art studio where he learned animation.
  • Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton’s father-in-law loaned him money to start his first store.
  • When he was a boy, Albert Einstein had a mentor, Max Talmud, who introduced him to the work of key thinkers in science, math, and philosophy.
  • Oprah Winfrey’s father provided a nurturing childhood after her parents split. Later, another influential person—her agent—persuaded her to take the unusual step of starting her own company.

One Passion

Sometimes, a person’s One Thing is a passion or skill that drives his or her success. In motivational success stories, we see that passion and skill are closely connected:

  • When you’re passionate about something, you devote an inordinate amount of time to working on it or practicing, which translates into skill.
  • As your skill grows, your enjoyment and results grow. You invest more time, creating a cycle that leads to extraordinary success.

For example, American long-distance runner Gilbert Tuhabonye’s passion for running became a skill that led to a profession, which gave him the opportunity to contribute to the welfare of his native country. Born in Burundi, he was a national champion runner who escaped being killed during a civil war by outrunning his enemies. He was recruited by and attended Abilene Christian University in Texas, where he won All-America honors and later became a popular running coach. With professional success, he began a foundation to raise money to provide water systems in Burundi. 

Applying the One Thing principle to your work and life is the most effective way to achieve extraordinary success.

One Life

One of the most prominent motivational success stories is that of Bill Gates. He is the paramount example of a person who has harnessed One Thing at various key moments to create an extraordinary life:

  • He had one passion in high school: computers.
  • One person, Paul Allen, gave him his first job and became his partner in forming Microsoft.
  • One person, Ed Roberts, changed both their lives by giving them an opportunity to write code for one computer, the Altair.
  • Microsoft’s One Thing initially was developing and selling interpreters for the Altair 8800, which ultimately made Gates the world’s richest man for 15 consecutive years.
  • When he retired, Gates and wife Melinda formed a foundation to do One Thing: improve people’s health in poor countries. They narrowed this further to focus on improving the availability of vaccines as the One Thing that would make the biggest difference. 

Live the One Thing

Focus isn’t easy in a world of technology, innovation, opportunities, and abundance. We’re bombarded with countless choices each day. Not wanting to miss an opportunity, we attempt too much and end up accomplishing less than we’d hoped.

We’d like to simplify and focus on less but aren’t sure how to choose the things that will lead to success. Curly the cowboy’s philosophy is the key: Figure out your One Thing and live it. Yet persistent myths and misinformation keep many of us from seeing the value of this simple, effective principle.

Find your One Thing, and one of these motivational success stories could be yours one day.

Motivational Success Stories: Living the One Thing

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Gary Keller's "The One Thing" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full The One Thing summary:

  • Why focusing daily on one thing, rather than many, is the key to success
  • How success is like dominos
  • The six common myths about success

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, science, and philosophy. A switch to audio books has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a creative nonfiction book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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