Last week I stumbled upon an article called “Two Things” which I think was originally blogged about by Glen Whitman, an Economics professor at California State University Northridge in 2004. It got re-posted quite a bit back then but, internet being what it is, times have moved on and quite a few of the original blog posts have been lost.
The Story of Two Things by Glen Whitman
A few years ago, I was chatting with a stranger in a bar. When I told him I was an economist, he said, “Ah. So… what are the Two Things about economics?”
“Huh?” I cleverly replied.
“You know, the Two Things. For every subject, there are really only two things you really need to know. Everything else is the application of those two things, or just not important.”
“Oh,” I said. “Okay, here are the Two Things about economics. One: Incentives matter. Two: There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
The Two Things game is simple
It just suggests that for every profession there are only two things that really matter. Everything else is either a function of or product of those two things or isn’t really that important.
I’ve become interested in the Two Things game - not just how you apply it to professions, but how you could also apply it to other things in business - processes, projects even meetings. Imagine if every meeting you went into you agreed with your colleagues (or just yourself) what the Two Things are that you want to come out of it with. Could it make you more effective in getting what you need?
Last week I was sitting with Tracy Mellor, our Group People Director as she finished a revised job description for our UK Head of Corporate Sales job that she is currently recruiting.
“It’s too long”, I complained about the 2 page job description that she has written. “But everything on it is important”, she said, followed by “we need to get better at making it clearer all the things a job involves”. So we played about with the words in a few places and combined a few bullet points where, on reflection they were really saying the same thing. We made it a few lines shorter.
“It’s still too long”, I said. I was worried that people would read it and remember nothing, rather than everything - I have a very young workforce (or “Gen Y” if you’re in Australia) so we’re talking YouTube generation , attention span of a gnat etc (no offence team, we’re just being honest here).
I said, “How about we add the Two Things to the end of the JD, just to sum up what’s really important.” So we added a last section :
Two Things about Head of Corporate Sales
- Grow our sales team by recruiting the right people
- Hit your sales targets by coaching and training your staff to be their very best
Which just sums it up - if the person in this role gets those two things right, then everything else in their JD will either be done as consequence of that, or will pale into insignificance. If they achieve those to things but other bits of detail fail - I’ll forgive them for that, those two things are the most important - they keys to success in that job.
Spurred on by this, I quickly rattled off a few more:
Two Things about Head of Development
- Keep the system running and doing what the business needs
- Protect our data from loss and theft
Two Things about Head of Asperity 360 (Our dedicated unit servicing clients of up to 500 staff)
- Hit your sales targets
- Retain your clients on renewal
Two Things about Head of Operations (call centre, voucher and card despatch etc)
- Make our customers happy
- Hit your SLA’s and budgets
One of the things I have to do in my job at Asperity is to try keep the wheels turning as easy and freely now we’re heading towards 200 employees as they were when we had 20. When you have 20 people in a room, things are easy - you all talk and see each other every day. 200 people across 6 offices on 3 continents requires more effort. It’s not impossible, I’m certain of that, but it does require consciously searching for oil for the wheels. Could the Two Things game be part of that oil?
The great thing about Two Things is that it leads naturally to focus. Once you’ve agreed the Two Things for a particular job, project, task or meeting then you can evaluate every task or suggest against them and see how much that task or suggestion supports the TwoThings, dropping what isn’t really important.
I was lucky enough to be introduced to Larry Billet a while back who is Chairman of the sandwich chain Pret a Manger. He gave me lots of helpful advice and advised me to “look for where you can move the needle”. Many other people have given their own words suggesting focus and looking for where the value really is. Maybe the Two Things about why good businesses lose track are “complexity increases, focus is lost”?
So I don’t know where this will end. Maybe you’ll start seeing Two Things on the back of Asperity staff business cards, maybe we’ll start asking ourselves where we can apply Two Things to other things, such as “Two Things about the meeting this afternoon” or “Two things about this project”.
Maybe you could try the Two Things game today and see if it helps - whatever happens, let me know through the Comments link below and/or tweet then at #twothings. But remember :
Two Things about the Two Things game :
- People love to play the Two Things game, but they rarely agree about what the Two Things are.
- That goes double for anyone who works with computers.