How to Succeed in Business? Do Less by Morten T. Hansen
In 2011, I decided to try to answer the question of why some people outperform others. I recruited a team of researchers with expertise in statistical analysis and began generating a set of hypotheses about which specific behaviors lead to high performance. We then conducted a five-year survey of 5,000 managers and employees, including sales reps, lawyers, actuaries, brokers, medical doctors, software programmers, engineers, store managers, plant foremen, nurses and even a Las Vegas casino dealer.
The top performers mastered selectivity.
Whenever they could, they carefully selected which priorities, tasks, meetings, customers, ideas or steps to undertake and which to let go. They then applied intense, targeted effort on those few priorities in order to excel.
Apply Occam’s Razor.
The French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry neatly formulated the same idea in his memoir: “Perfection is ﬁnally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.”
Say no to your boss.
The next time your boss piles on new work, enforcing an old-fashioned “work harder” mental-ity, try asking if he or she would like you to reprioritize, giving less attention to previously discussed tasks. Put the decision back on their shoulders. In our data, people who focused on a narrow scope of work, and said no to maintain that strategy, outper-formed others who didn’t. They placed an impressive 25 percent-age points higher in the performance ranking—the difference between being a middling and an excellent performer.
What value can I create?
The best performers instead ask a crucial question before they draft their goals: What value can I create? And by value, they mean the key beneﬁts they bring to customers and others, not themselves.
So much in our workplaces is premised on the conventional wisdom that hard work is the road to success, and that working the hardest makes you a star. Our analysis suggests the opposite. Yes, the best performers work hard (about 50 hours a week in our data, like Natalie), but they don’t outperform because they work longer hours. They outperform because they have the courage to cut back and simplify when others pile on, to say “no” when others say “yes,” to pursue value when others just meet internal goals, and to change how they do their jobs when others stick with the status quo.
We should no longer take it as an automatic compliment to hear that we’re “hard working.” Hard work isn’t always the best work. The key is to work smarter.