Priority

Hi all. Whenever ask my four-year-old son to name his favourite whatever, he always names three or four options.

Me: Who’s your best friend?
Stan: Frankie and Yohan and Jack and Alex and George.
Me: What’s your favourite food?
Stan: Ice cream and sausages. And watermelon. And iceblocks.

I try to make the point that favourite means you have to choose one, but he doesn’t buy it.

Chocolate cake. Also a favourite.

Given it’s strategy season for us at Trade Me, I’ve been thinking a lot about priorities. Trade Me is a portfolio business, so, like Stanley, while we might have a small set of priorities, we don’t really have a single, top dog, one-ring-to-rule-them-all favourite. Which is interesting, because priority actually comes from the Latin word “prior,” which means “first”. In fact, we’ve only introduced the plural over the last 100 years or so.

Earlier this year, I stumbled across a really interesting deck about how Spotify thinks about priorities. They use something called stack ranking. Rather than ordering initiatives by high, medium and low priorities, the idea with stack ranking is that you make an explicit decision about what initiative is the most important. You end up with conversations like “if we could only choose one out of these two, building infrastructure or building a new product — which one would we choose?” It goes back to the original meaning of priority. They have a stack ranking for the whole company, which is visible to all and trickles down through every level.

You can apply this stack ranking idea to your own life too. I read this from the absorbing book Grit earlier in the week:

The story goes like this: Buffett turns to his faithful pilot and says that he must have dreams greater than flying Buffett around to where he needs to go. The pilot confesses that, yes, he does. And then Buffett takes him through three steps.
First, you write down a list of twenty-five career goals.
Second, you do some soul-searching and circle the five highest-priority goals. Just five.
Third, you take a good hard look at the twenty goals you didn’t circle. These you avoid at all costs. They’re what distract you; they eat away time and energy, taking your eye from the goals that matter more.

I can’t get this idea out of my head. I’ve spoken before about having a work bucket list, but this is next-level. I haven’t actually done this exercise myself, but I should, if nothing else just to see if it’s possible.

Here’s the point though — time and energy are limited, and deciding what to prioritise is super important — both as a business and as an individual. And deciding what you aren’t going to NOT do is perhaps as important as deciding what you are going to do.