Reducing Complexity – The One Big Thing

I was posed the following question the other day in one of my Ask Me Anything sessions:

Imagine you meet someone new who claims to be a “financial expert.” If you could only ask them one question to determine if they are legit, what question would you ask?

It has been a few days and I don’t have the answer, but I will eventually get back to everyone when I do because I think it is important.

Nick Maggiulli is the person that started this meme on Twitter and he also linked back to this post he wrote in January titled ‘One Big Thing‘.

The gist:

My point in writing this is to get you to answer the following question: What one piece of information would help you make better decisions in different areas of your life? To give you an example, I once proposed this thought experiment to one of my single, male friends:

Imagine you had a list of 10 single women your age and you can only go on a date with 1 of them. However, you know nothing else about any of these women. Not what they look like. Not their personality. Nothing. If you could only have one piece of information on all of them (no photos), what would you ask for before making your decision?

My friend thought about it for a moment then said, “How often they go to the gym.” I asked him why and he said that gym frequency was indicative of other positive attributes such as: hygiene, self-care, motivation, etc. My friend had just used the same heuristic shortcut as Rosling and Seder.

So, take this idea further.

If you are trying to improve your business, what one big thing distinguishes your great clients from your bad clients?

If you are trying to get healthier, what one big thing separates good health from ill health?

If you are trying to be a better parent, what one big thing differentiates an amazing childhood from a subpar one?

Though I don’t have the answers, when I frame questions this way I find myself saving time because I only focus on the most important aspects of a particular system. It’s not perfect, but I hope it can help you as much as it has helped me.

Howard here again…

For my investing my ‘one big thing’ is price.

I look at all-time highs and than focus on the catalyst (the one big thing) that has driven the stock to all-time highs and try to imagine if that can continue.