Seth Godin had a post today called N-1 where he asks what would happen if you did N-1 things (i.e. eliminated one thing at a time) until you could do a world class job on what’s left. He’s contrasting that to the philosophy of Fred Wilson’s N+1 theory which says there is always room for one more of anything. One more task, one more hobby, one more area I should master, a thousand irons in a thousand fires. Both seem correct, but seem mutually exclusive.
These contrasting viewpoints are particularly relevant to me recently, as I’ve been working on eliminating excess distractions from my work and life. I’ve found that I have a commitment limit, over which things spin out of control and little gets done. In computer-speak, I start thrashing. The previous few years of my life largely consisted of adding more, more, more. More work, more stuff, more hassle, but unexpectedly, less value. Now, my focus is on delegating, outsourcing or systematizing that which can be done by others or automated systems and concentrating my rather limited amount of time on what adds the most value.
Back to N-1 and N+1. Perhaps why both seem correct is that a blended approach is best, pursuing N-1 until comfortable that I’m no longer project-thrashing, then applying N+1 to what’s left. That’s what I think Seth is saying, but this redefines N+1 as a valid, complementary strategy within the confines of N-1. In other words, instead of grazing the surface of countless projects, we deep dive into a limited number of specific areas and projects to achieve stellar results. I call this theory N±1.