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Focus on the finger…

TC North //May 23, 2011//

Focus on the finger…

TC North //May 23, 2011//

Executive and sales teams I’ve worked with regularly give each other the finger — and greatly appreciate the gesture. Where did this use of the finger originate? It comes from the 1991 movie City Slickers, an entertaining flick that combined philosophy and comedy (a “philomedy”)!

In the movie, Mitch, played by Billy Crystal, and two of his buddies head off to New Mexico to “find themselves.” They take on the roles of cowboys and participate in a cattle drive headed by Curly, played by Jack Palance, a crusty but wise, tough-as-nails trail boss. After a rough beginning to their relationship, Mitch and Curly engage in a conversation that went like this:

Curly: “You know what the secret of life is?”
Mitch: “No, what?”
Curly: “This.” (Curly holds up a single, crooked, arthritic-looking index finger.)
Mitch: “Your finger?”
Curly: “One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that, and everything else don’t mean sh#*!”
Mitch: “That’s great, but what’s the one thing?”
Curly: “That’s what you’ve got to figure out.”


Curly’s message is simple yet profound, and it’s at the heart of becoming a high-performing individual or organization. We can all be high performers; both high performance and genius are created where our greatest passions and competencies intersect. For example, the only person I’ve ever known who could make me belly laugh until I cried, anytime she wanted, was a developmentally disabled woman named Ruth Ann. Ruth Ann struggled with many things, but she was a master of subtle humor and she loved to make people laugh.

Individually, each of us needs to figure out, what’s my one thing? When we do and choose to pursue our purpose, life becomes simpler, less confusing and more focused – putting us on the path to high performance in whatever we choose.

In my last article “Nine Unusual High-Performance Traits,” one of the unusual traits of high-performance organizations was an obsessive focus on two things: 1) creating a high-performance culture and 2) being known for one product, service or something that differentiates the company in its market. For organizations, the second trait is their one thing. Creating a high-performance culture is a requisite for the one thing to be sustainable.

So what’s your one thing? Will you be like most people and limit yourself from becoming a high performer, or will you identify and pursue your one thing? If you choose to pursue your one thing, consider asking those around you to give you the finger to remind you to stay focused on it.

 And if you happen to see somebody give the finger, that crooked single index finger, smile and give it back.
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