Did you reflect on the “six lies” between you and success I wrote about in April ISHN pgs 18-19? Recall the six lies: 1) Everything Matters Equally; 2) Multitasking; 3) A Disciplined Life; 4) Willpower is Always on Will-Call; 5) A Balanced Life; and 6) Big is Bad.1,2

How many times do you find yourself doubling down to accomplish a big, important safety project? After several weeks, did tension mount to the point little was getting done? Did you go home every night exhausted? If so, you were living the lies of success.

How do you become less stressed and more productive? Keller draws upon Andrew Carnegie and Mark Twain to expose their alleged “secret” to success. Carnegie made his fortune in steel.  In Carnegie’s speech “The Road to Business Success” he states, “The concerns which fail are those which have scattered their capital, which means that they have scattered their brains also.” Twain agreed: “The secret to getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks and then starting on the first one.”3

So what is the “first one”? Keller offers the “Focusing Question” as the first step. The Focusing Question can lead you to answer the “big picture” question (What safety target should I aim for?) along with the “small focus” question (What is the one thing I must do now to ultimately achieve the big picture?).

Once you have completed the one thing “now,” ask the “Focusing Question” again and again so you align your various tasks in order of priority. Accomplish one task, the right task, and move on to the next right task. As Keller notes, the Focusing Question collapses all possible questions into one: “What’s the ONE Thing I can do / such that by doing it / everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”4

Apply the “Focusing Question” to other aspects of your life. Remember the 66 days it takes to establish a habit.5

How to ask a great question? Gary Keller provides a framework you can apply to safety messes.  Here is his framework and a safety example of Keller’s approach.6

 “From the book The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, Bard Press 2013”.

Let’s take decreasing injuries as a way to break down each of the quadrants, using “What can I do to decrease injuries by 50% in 12 months?” as a hold point for Big & Specific (Quadrant 1).  Let’s examine the pros and cons of each quadrant, ending with where you want to be – Big & Specific.

Quadrant 4 – Small & Specific – “What can I do to decrease injuries by 5 percent this year?”  This is in the proper direction, but it is only an incremental step. Low goals rarely lead to extraordinary results.

Quadrant 3 – Small & Broad – “What can I do to decrease injuries?” This is a brainstorming question. “ This is the kind of question most safety pros ask and then wonder why their answers don’t deliver extraordinary results.

Quadrant 2 – Big & Broad – “What can I do to decrease injuries by 50 percent?” This is a Big Question, but it lacks specifics. It allows you to go in too many different directions, like launching numerous safety programs to accomplish the goal only to find your workforce confused and exhausted?

Quadrant 1 – Big & Specific – “What can I do to decrease injuries by 50 percent within 6 months?”  You need to find a Big Answer to this big and specific question.

Convert this question into a Focusing Question: What’s the ONE Thing I can do to decrease injuries by 50% within 6 months so everything else will be easier or unnecessary? Now you’re forced to pinpoint what matters most and start there.7

So where is the Big Answer?

Keller provides a model. Answers come in three forms – Doable, Stretch, and Possibility. Too often safety professionals reach for the “Doable” and wonder why they are not satisfied with the results. Well, Doable is what you already “Do.” Drop this answer and move on.

More adventurous professionals will pursue a “Stretch” answer, believing
they are reaching the outer limits of their capabilities.

High achievers seek the Big Answer in the realm of “Possibility.” Explore your “Possibility Answer” well outside of your comfort zone.  As Keller notes, the greatest achievers benchmark and trend.8  I have found safety professionals so focused on dealing with matters within their own organization they rarely reach beyond their work environment to see how another organization has answered similar Big Questions. When they do, there isn’t much to glean because so many merely copy what others have done. Even so, what you do discover becomes the benchmark of what is currently being done. At this point, according to Keller, look for the next thing you can do that will out-perform the best performers you have studied.

Let’s say behavior-based safety (BBS) has been used at your company for the past 10 years with good improvement — but your injury rates have plateaued. The high-performing companies you studied, who also rely upon BBS, are experiencing the same flatline with their injury rates.  What’s the ONE Thing you can do to decrease injuries by 50% within 6 months so everything else will be easier or unnecessary? 

Will you take the “Doable” approach and double down on training more observers to watch employees and give feedback?

Will you use a “Stretch” answer? Hire a consultant to reconfigure and rebrand your BBS program?

Will you reach beyond your comfort zone into the domain of “Possibility”? Take the risk to explore a new way of improving safety, something never tried before?

This is the zone where Keller says the magic happens and possibilities are unlimited.9 Here you out-perform those companies you benchmarked and begin to see unparalleled improvements.

Next month, I’ll finish this series with Keller’s model to delivering extraordinary results by unlocking the possibilities within you.


 1  Leemann, J.E. “Puncturing 6 common work-related myths”. In Industrial Safety & Hygiene News. 48:4, April 2014.

2  Keller, G. and J. Papasan. 2012. The One Thing – The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results. Bard Press. Austin, TX.

3  Ibid. pp. 103.

4  Ibid. pp. 108.

5  Ibid. pp. 112 – 118.

6  Ibid. pp. 120 – 123.

7  Ibid. pp. 123.

8  Ibid. pp. 125.

9  Ibid. pp. 127.