💥 The Ultimate Advantage, Doing 1000x More, and Little Wins

Welcome to the Action Digest. You’ll find more action around these parts than a Wild West saloon at high noon!

Coming up in this week’s action-packed edition:

  • 🐭 We learn the unpopular but essential strategy used by Walt Disney to produce world-changing creative work.

  • 💢 The biggest YouTubers in the world reveal why choosing your battles is the secret to achieving true excellence.

  • 🥊 We explore the principle that helped Conor McGregor become the highest paid athlete in the world, and then ultimately led to his downfall.

  • And more!!

P.s., you can check out editions 1-16 here in case you missed them, including insights such as the playbook that Coco Chanel used to rewrite the world of fashion and go from orphan to multi-millionaire, how Steve Jobs cultivated great creative taste, and the motivational memos that turned around a failing soup company.

Seriously, there are some gems you’ll appreciate in these earlier editions. ;-)

1. Excellence is the ultimate competitive advantage


In 1929, Walt Disney was desperately trying to convince Ben Sharpsteen to join his fledgling animation studio. Sharpsteen was the most talented animator in the business—but he had one major reservation about Walt’s studio. 

“Walt Disney had to be the best,” Neal Gabler writes (one of Walt’s biographers), “Walt insisted upon excellence, and Sharpsteen admitted that he soon had some misgivings about joining the studio when he came to realize how high Walt’s standards were.”

Walt assured Sharpsteen that this was the secret to the studio’s success: “Walt had passionately expressed his long standing conviction that his salvation was in making a product that so excelled, that the public would recognize it and enjoy it as the best entertainment, and that they would more or less demand to see Disney pictures.” 

Sharpsteen ultimately overcame his reservation and joined Disney, but he wasn’t the only one with concerns about Walt’s strategy: “his pursuit of excellence eventually ran up against an intractable reality that always seemed to bedevil him: money. Quality was expensive, and there never seemed to be enough money to support it.” 

In the early years, Walt’s standards kept Disney on the permanent edge of bankruptcy. At one point, when the studio was weeks away from financial collapse, Walt’s own lawyer penned a letter regarding the existential threat: “It is a beautiful idea to build up an ideal organization like Walt desires and make a product par excellence for future distribution hopes; but there is such a thing as running it into the ground… it is absolutely essential that you cheapen your product for the present.” 

But Walt’s lawyer failed to understand that his “animations could not be compromised; they had to be better than anyone else’s or he would not survive in the business; nor would he want to survive.” 

Walt called his attorney into his office and explained that he would not compromise on quality. He would not rush production. He would not cut salaries. They would find another way. Walt was unwavering in his belief that “quality was his only real advantage.”

Amidst all the drama of busywork and politics and constraints, we often forget that the most important thing we can do is strive to produce our absolute best work.

But that can be easier said than done…

2. They can sense the amount of care invested

Apple and the original Disney studio have a lot in common.

Jony Ive (lead designer of the iMac, iPod, iPhone) was once asked how Apple’s products get their start. “Every time that we've released something,” Jony explains, “we have to somehow believe that we can do it better. But what we refuse to do is to launch something that's just different.” 

Jony’s approach is simple but rare. “I think the majority of our manufactured environment is characterized by carelessness,” Jony continues, “and it exists, really at the end of a whole bunch of decisions. And most of those decisions were driven by price and schedule. And we have genuinely tried to make products that don't stand testament to that sort of development process, or don't stand testament to those values. They stand testament to us desperately trying to make the very best product we can.” 

But pouring excessive care into a creation can often feel counterintuitive and risky.

Even Jony had great trepidation as he was crafting the iPod design. He used stainless steel instead of the plastics found in competitors and obsessed over the internal packaging that cradled the device. “We'd been doing some fairly reckless things like finishing the inside of the iPod, that, you know, costs money and it costs time.” All of this added up to an audacious $399 price tag. “We did it just because we thought it was right and we had a theory that people would sense that that amount of care was invested in the object. But it was a theory.” 

Of course, Apple’s theory would prove to be correct: “And when the iPod started to sell in large volumes, there was this tremendous encouragement because it was this sense that actually people really do care. They really do if they're given the choice.” 

Sometimes excellence has little regard for budgets or schedules, it rarely makes sense on paper, and almost always feels like a risk. But if we have the courage and faith to pursue excellence then we have a shot at permeating our work with a quality that truly sets it apart.

3. When you realize how much work it takes to get good, you realize how few things you can get good at

Following the sale of his licensing business for over $40 million in 2021, Alex Hormozi committed to a new goal of growing his YouTube channel. But after seeing underwhelming initial results, Alex reached out to YouTuber, Eric Decker, for help. Eric brought Alex along to a two day meetup of some of the biggest YouTubers in the world. “It was in no way surprising to me after going there for two days,” Alex said, “why those guys were the number one in that industry.” 

“These guys are doing literally 100 times the work,” Alex realized, “they have a team of 10 people spending 4 weeks to prepare one 15 minute video.” This means that the best YouTubers weren’t doing twice as much work as Alex, or even three times as much, they were doing 1000x more than him: “10 [people], times 12 hours a day, times 4 weeks—all of a sudden you really are at 1000 times the work, 1500 times the work, to create, to be fair, an outcome that is 1500 or 10,000 times better than the average YouTube video.” “It completely reset my standard, reset my bar for how much preparation was required to be exceptional.” 

The meetup reminded Alex of a key principle: “when you realize how much work it takes to get good, you realize how few things you can get good at. And that’s where the focus becomes so important because the only way to get that good is to do a few things. And so that’s where the strategy of picking or prioritizing the things that you want to get good at becomes more important, because you just can’t do 100x the work on 100 different things.” 

Excellence is what happens when we identify the few things that matter most and then throw our full intensity into doing those few things the best that we can.

4. Little wins versus little defeats

Obsession and work ethic launched UFC champion Conor McGregor from plumber to the highest-paid athlete in the world within just a few years. But then success brought Conor face to face with a new obstacle that contributed to his first major defeat. 

As UFC boss, Dana White, explained it, “We look at what could screw up making the fights that we want to make: injuries, contract negotiations, and… fame. You get to a certain point where you’ve made a bunch of money, now you’ve got other business opportunities that compete with fighting.” 

The distractions from fame and opportunity slowly crept in for Conor, in his words: “I knew in my head, I was saying, ‘Get up at this time.’ I didn’t get up at that time. ‘Train at this time.’ I didn’t train at that time. ‘Don’t eat this.’ I ate that. ‘Don’t drink that.’ I drank it. And these all just infiltrate my mental strength. Little defeats instead of wins.” 

Excellence is not a one-time achievement, but a continuous process of winning our small daily battles. As you confront your next small move, think: is this a little win or a little defeat?

5. The Action Method is the engine of little wins


That’s the sound of a bright idea landing.

Perhaps it’s a new growth strategy, or an idea for date night, or the angle for your next creative masterpiece. Whatever it is, what you do next will either be a little defeat or a little win.

Little defeat: you write down your idea but you don’t identify the next action required to make it happen. Life distracts you with new, shiny, objects and you never get around to taking action on your great idea. The world laments.

Little win: you write down your idea in your action method journal. It prompts you to convert your idea into an action step. You have clarity on what to do next. You’re feeling good. The next day you take action and get the ball rolling. Your idea is a raging success. You’re invited to award ceremonies and high-profile interviews. You decline them all—you’re too busy taking action on your next bright idea.

“Gone are the days where I walk out of a meeting with long notes and no clear understanding what I need to do. These notebooks keep me on track.”

Tina Roth Eisenberg, founder and designer

6. There is always room for…

🔐 This insight, that reveals a principle for enduring success, is for premium subscribers (yep, this weekly digest is reader supported). For the price of one fancy coffee per month our research team will agonize over the lessons learned from world class creative leaders and teams who make ideas happen, and send their tightly summarized conclusions directly to your inbox on a weekly basis. What a proposition, huh?!

☕️ Join us and help make this weekly action catalyst for creative minds a sustainable project.  

💥 Upgrade to unlock full access to this and every Action Digest each week.

We’ll leave you with this…

“Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it, they will want to come back and see you do it again, and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.” 

Walt Disney

Thanks for subscribing, and sharing anything you’ve learned with your teams and networks (let us know what you think and share ideas: @ActionDigest).

How well did today's digest raise the bar?

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.