As I’m writing this, two of my very favorite expressions are bouncing around in my brain and dying to make it onto this page. They want to get out because they know they relate very strongly to what I want to share here. I’ll let them out in a moment.
A few weeks ago I wrote about my diet experiment trying Tim Ferris’ 4 Hour Body / Slow Carb diet and why even though I’m really not into diets, I’m giving this one a try.
I’m still on that diet (week 12, I think) and even though, as I shared in the article it’s not getting the results it should, I’m persevering – and it’s because of the only two trends that matter.
In the same article (or maybe it was in the comments section…) I also described the nearest that I’d come to being on a diet before. This ‘nearest thing’ was a kind of system I’d created for myself to get healthier and fitter and do so in a way that was convenient for my very busy life at the time (i.e. simple, and therefore sustainable).
I concluded that after giving the slow carb diet more of a chance I would most likely transfer to something like the system (I love systems) I’d used before. This system, which is also based very much on the only two trends that matter (hence me writing this first), is something I’m going to tell you more about next week.
The Only Two Trends That Matter
So What Are The Only Two Trends That Matter?
Simple: You’re either moving closer to your goal or further away from it.
Think of it in terms of direction if you like or in terms of improvement, whatever works for you (better/worse, up/down, more/less…).
Am I over-simplifying things here? No. That’s exactly the point. Simple works. Don’t get me wrong, there may be an awful lot of complexity going on underneath these two trends you’re monitoring, but this is what you need to be tracking. Are things getting better or worse? Nearer your goal or further away?
In fact it’s even easier than that – it’s just really one check, better or worse?
Thinking in this way will stop you getting bogged down in the details, it will stop you wasting time and it will prevent doubts and limiting beliefs from stalling you.
It Helps To Have A Clearly Defined Goal
To make this simple concept really effective, it helps to have a clearly defined goal so you know what you’re shooting for. The clearer the goal the better, and great visualization which I’ve written about before both from a life coaching point of view (Create Your Compelling Future) and from a business results point of view (Begin With The End In Mind) and will write about again (because that too is really simple but really powerful) will help to make that goal a very effective one.
Expression #1: The Confused Mind Always Says ‘No’
OK, out you come.
The first of those two expressions I told you I had bouncing around in my head is “The confused mind always says ‘No'”. I’m not sure where I first heard this expression but I love it. Just a moment, let me look it up… OK, I couldn’t easily find out – Google tells me lots of sites that use this quote but none showing who first said it (if you know, please do share in the comments below).
I believe it’s very true. Great marketers for example make things really simple for people. Steve Jobs was a master of this.
I’m sure you can see how this expression relates well to what we’re exploring here.
Back To The Diet Example: Using The ‘Two Trends That Matter’ Concept
To use the example above, if I’d worried too much abut the results claimed by the diet (e.g. how many pounds I should have lost in the first week etc), then I may well have concluded it’s not working and given up.
Instead, my only focus has been the two trends that matter, which are really simple to check and that has made it really really easy to persevere with this diet. To be very specific:
Weight: Am I losing weight or gaining weight?
Answer: I’m pretty sure I’m losing weight, much slower than Mr Ferris claimed I would but, I am losing weight. Therefore the trend is good = keep going.
Note: You may notice I say ‘pretty sure’ that’s because I deliberately didn’t even weigh myself and I’m not checking the scales every day, that much detail is just not necessary, and could even work against me if I’m not meeting my expectations – I only care about generally if my weight is improving or getting worse and I only check this, simply visually and from the way I’m feeling, around once per week
Diet: Is my diet getting better or worse?
Answer: My diet is definitely getting better as a result of this diet, i.e. trend is good = keep going.
you can look at as many criteria as you like in this way – e.g. psychology, energy levels, strength – whatever it is that you want to test. But the test is simple – is it getting better or worse? Are you nearer your goal or further away (since the last time you tested).
Using the only two trends that matter makes it really easy to track and adjust accordingly (try harder, keep going, make alterations, abandon).
Expression #2: What Gets Measured Gets Improved
According to Google, this one comes from Robin S. Sharma. I can’t exactly say it’s one of my favorite quotes as such, just because it reminds me too much of work, and even, to me, somehow suggests detail… but I certainly believe it.
So this expression too is a very powerful one. The point is to make sure you are measuring the right things.
… and if you agree that there are only two trends that matter, then that’s what you should be measuring.
How Does This Work For Complex Systems?
I did say that this concept can be used for anything.
If you say to me that your situation, system, problem is way too complex and this just isn’t relevant in your case, then I say to you: Pfffff.
In fact the more complex your problem, the more important this is. It will stop you getting lost.
If you are dealing with very complex systems or situations then you may need systems and more detailed measurements in place to answer the question: are we getting nearer our goal or further away. It may be very complex to put these together, but you still ultimately just want to answer that very simple question (the two trends question).
Have the supporting detail, put the relationships, systems and mechanisms in place to enable you to answer the most fundamental question with respect to the ultimate goals that really matter to you, your life, your health, your finances or your business: better or worse?
i.e. don’t waste too much time in the detail. Focus on what’s important.
A Really Quick And Simple Business Example
I’ve often used something called ‘Golden Milestones’ which I believe was first thought up at IBM (but please don’t quote me on that). Rather than tracking complex plans and getting into lengthy discussions about tasks and dependencies, the senior manager only cares about the key (‘Golden’) milestones and we track a very simple report with these on it. That doesn’t mean that all of the other plans which underpin those milestones aren’t needed. They absolutely are, but having a clear list of the key milestones and tracking that keeps the focus and precisely because these key milestones are being tracked effectively, the underlying plans have to be robust.
The senior manager in the example above only cares about meeting the key milestones. Specifically, he cares only about two trends in relation to each milestone: Are we ahead of schedule or behind schedule.
Most organizations struggle to focus on tracking what’s really important and when it comes to planning tend to spend too long discussing the wrong things. Sadly, I’ve seen on more than one occasion someone maintaining a monster of a plan which is almost a full time job in itself and actually doesn’t really mean anything.
The idea here is to get the balance right. Simple works. I recently heard a podcast from Srinivas Rao where he said he had switched to checking his Google Analytics stats once per month. He’d previously been checking them every day. Once per month is perfect, it means he can get on with what he needs to do, he is still tracking to make sure he is on track, but he is not getting so obsessed with the detail that the measuring of those stats actually ends up working against him.
But the key point here is that by checking the stats once per month instead of every day, he gets a much more accurate answer to the question that really matters: Are things (for whichever key stats he cares about) getting better or worse?
The confused mind always says no – so make it really simple for yourself. Focus only on the two trends that matter.
What gets measured gets improved – track your progress but make sure you have a good system and that you are tracking the right thing at the right frequency.