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The 1% Solution for Work and Life

2011 March 18
tags: Getting Things Done, GTD, postaweek2011, Productivity, Tom Connellan
by Andrew   

“There is no point in doing well that which you shouldn’t be doing at all.”  ~Tom Connellan

Tom is absolutely right. And, he’s been so right for so long that he certainly doesn’t need my validation. But, I’ve been blessed to hear Tom speak to a small group of executives (~20) from one of the organizations I worked for. I say blessed because Tom is phenomenal in front of thousands of people. There are no adequate words to describe the power of his message in a small group except, possibly, astoundingly phenomenal. He deftly cuts through the chaff that permeates most organizations’ discussions about obstacles to improving performance, presents a compelling case for selecting and focusing on the right priority, and astutely leads the audience to the undeniable truth about the effectiveness of actionable steps (as opposed to nebulous ideas about far-off improvements).

I contacted Tom earlier this year to ask permission to use the opening quote in this article. Tom graciously agreed, and then surprised me (OK; he blew me away) by asking me if I’d review his new book on my blog. Are you kidding me?! My mother didn’t raise an idiot. It didn’t take much consideration to decide to reorient the core of my original post for this week to focus primarily on Tom’s remarkable approach to conveying how anyone can achieve astounding results in their personal and work lives in the next 30 days and sustain the improvements. Sound like a tall order? It is, if you insist on applying traditional self-help methods. Tom’s approach is based on the concepts that “not everyone can be great, but everyone can be better than they are right now” and “you can’t be 100% better than everyone else, but you can be 1% better at hundreds of things.”


The difference between exceptional and exceptionally exceptional

The key point is that the difference between exceptional and exceptionally exceptional performance in the world’s inarguably ultimate test of athletic prowess (The Olympics) is one percent! Sometimes it’s slightly less, sometimes slightly more. But on average, the gold was taken by an exceptional performer by less than a one percent margin over the fourth place performer. These data have been validated by multiple studies by completely unrelated experimenters.


Chapter organization

In true Tom Connellan fashion, The 1% Solution focuses hard-hitting, actionable content into digestible (and immediately applicable) pieces. The book is organized into seven chapters:

  • It’s Turning Point Time
  • The Upside-Down Way To Boost Your Motivation
  • The Physics of Personal Success: How To Create a More Powerful You
  • Why Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect, and What to Do About It
  • The 30-Day Formula That Will Change Your Life
  • How Not Doing Anything Helps You Get More Done
  • The Circle is Complete


The first chapter begins with “Ken,” whom we will see throughout the book interact with, learn from, and grow with other people who have achieved remarkable results from applying the principles Tom expounds:

Ken powered down his computer at the end of the day and took a moment to sit back in his chair. It had been another productive day. Looking out into the hallway, he smiled and waved goodbye to one of his colleagues on her way out the door. It was great to have people around him that he could work with effectively. His eyes turned to the award he’d just framed and hung on the wall, next to several others. He remembered how sweet it was to get each and every one of those awards – and the promotions and respect that went hand in hand with them.

And then he looked at his desk, at the pictures of his family. Ken had a great marriage, to a great woman. They loved each other and had a lot of fun together – and whenever life got tough, they had each other’s back…

He took a satisfied, deep breath. He could honestly say he was a happy guy, that he was on top of the world.

But it hadn’t always been this way…


From that beginning, Tom deftly walks the reader through Ken’s chance discussion with his son’s soccer coach, who ultimately introduces him to the personal challenge that will change his life in phenomenal and sometimes unexpected ways – all for the better. Each successive chapter builds on the following principles by Ken meeting, working with, and bent introduced to other members of the group of one percenters by various experts or recognized leaders in their respective endeavors:

  • The difference between exceptional and exceptionally exceptional is one percent.
  • You can’t be 100% better than everyone else, but you can be 1% better at hundreds of things.
  • You may not win all the time, but you can have a winner’s heart if you do something better today than you did it yesterday.
  • Not everyone can be great, but everyone can be better than they are right now.
  • Aim to be swifter, higher, stronger – not swiftest, highest, strongest.


The main points of each successive chapter are outlined below:

The Upside-Down Way To Boost Your Motivation

  • The best way to increase motivation is to increase action
  • The more you get done, the more you’ll be motivated to do things
  • The way to start is to take action, even a small one
  • You need to be clear about your goals or what’s important
  • You must choose to do actions that help you achieve your goals (effectiveness) and then become good at them (efficiency)


The Physics of Personal Success: How To Create a More Powerful You

  • Taking action overcomes the inertia holding you in place
  • Momentum keeps you going
  • The right leverage brings disproportionately greater results than the effort put in
  • Per the 20/80 principle, look for small shifts in your actions that can yield large shifts in results

(Special thanks to Archimedes, Newton, and Pareto)


Why Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect, and What to Do About It

  • To become the best of the best takes 10,000 hours of deliberate, challenging practice
  • Everyone who spends time in deliberate practice improves their performance
  • Turn daily tasks into deliberate practice by a) assessing how well you do a task and how you can improve next time, b) getting constructive feedback, and c) tackling goals that are challenging but achievable with support
  • Compare yourself to you, rather than to others
  • Plan ahead and set goals, but do your best in the present


The 30-Day Formula That Will Change Your Life

  • Practice your habit every day for 30 days, so it will become automatic
  • Do the same for other habits, one at a time
  • Be aware that beliefs determine how you feel and act in response to events: Activating Event -> Belief -> Consequence
  • Reframe negative beliefs to help you achieve your goals
  • Don’t let a slip become a fall


How Not Doing Anything Helps You Get More Done

  • Cycle throughout the day between periods of concentrated effort and planned recovery … schedule this if you need to
  • Work in a focused way for no more than 90 minutes at s time, and have rest breaks in between
  • Make at least 3 of your rest breaks each week 20-minute exercise sessions
  • Nap during the daytime for between 10 and 30 minutes
  • Get at least 8 hours of sleep a night
  • Take regular vacations


The Circle is Complete

The key takeaways from the final chapter are the measured rate of change is dependent on several factors, particularly whether you’re measuring over days, weeks, or months, and whether you’re measuring the change in actions or in the outcomes of the actions. Define the goals, identify the actions, commit to the incremental improvements, and share the wealth with others.

About Tom Connellan
From the publisher

When companies such as Marriott, FedEx, and Neiman Marcus want to take their performance to another level, they all turn to one man – Tom Connellan. And with good reason. He’s solid. Every year, he keynotes scores of meetings.

A former program director at the Michigan Business School, Tom brings depth and breadth to your conference. As a company founder and former CEO, he knows firsthand what it takes to grow a business. Tom started a service company in the health-care field and built it into a network of 1,200 instructors serving 300 hospitals and most of the Fortune 500 firms. More than 1,000,000 participants went through the programs, and two different Surgeon General reports cited the firm’s program quality. Tom knows what it’s like to be on the firing line of business, because he’s been there.

Tom is the bestselling author of ten books and numerous articles. He’s been the editorial director of four management and human resource magazines. Tom brings solid content and a passionate delivery style to his presentations. He captures the audience’s attention and holds it from start to finish.

Selling Power magazine named him one of seven “Tough Talking and Truth Telling” keynote speakers.


I’m so convinced Tom’s book is worth reading and that it directly contributes to the message that I want to convey, that I’m including a purchase link below (which I rarely do) and adding it to the site’s Worth Reading list.

You can obtain Tom’s book via the link below or in bookstores.


Now, go improve something and have fun doing it!


2 Responses Post a comment
  1. May 19, 2011

    This is a great review. I have been following several of the principles, but wasn't sure where they started. I think I'll put this book on my summer reading list.

    • Andrew permalink
      May 19, 2011

      Hi, Kim! Thanks! I'm glad you found the review useful. I definitely think you'll enjoy the book. It's an easy read, but it has a wealth of benefit contained in its pages.

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