Be Smarter, More Focused, and More Decisive: Why ‘Succession’ Says Embrace the Rule of One Question

Succession is arguably — especially since I’m the one making the argument — the best series on television; five Golden Globe nominations, the most of any show this year, has to mean something.

The writing is crisp and clever, leaving bread crumbs that always pay off. (More on that in a moment. Tom and Greg are the new-age odd couple. Shiv and Roman are a one-two punch of snark. Strong’s Kendall is one like long showcase reel of acting range. 

And then there’s Gerri, who has managed to survive — in itself a measure of success at Waystar Royco — and even thrive by constantly asking herself one question.

First some background. The through-line of Succession is control : Who has it (Papa Logan) and who wants it (everyone else). 

In episode four of season three, Roman comes up with a “clever” way to thwart Kendall’s takeover bid: Find the “friendly hobo” Kendall paid to tattoo Kendall’s initials on his forehead. Roman pays him for a photo of the tattoo and shares the news with Gerri, the company’s figurehead CEO.

“And you think it’s a good idea to dredge this up?” Gerri asks.

“On Kendall?” Roman says? “Woke-ahontas? Using the poor’s forehead as a Post-It? It’s killer. Are you kidding me?”

“Don’t use this,” she says. “Bank the photo, by all means. But don’t spread it around. It’s great for Logan. Bad for Kendall. Bad for you.”

Roman, disappointed, deflects by saying, “So, what… you care?” (Roman has a thing for Gerri.) 

“‘How does this advance my personal position?'” Gerri says. “You need to think about that 24/7. You should get that tattooed on your head.”

Not just good advice, but a plot point that pays off in the season three finale when Roman, literally on his knees, begs Gerri not to let Logan (apparently) sell off control of the company.

“You can help us,” Roman says. “You can help us stop him.”

“I’m focused on whatever outcome best serves the financial outcome of the shareholders,” Gerri says.

Roman shakes his head at the platitude.

“And it doesn’t serve my interests,” Gerri says. “How does it serve my interests?”

But not in the way you might think.

The Rule of 1 Question

Starting and running a business means making hundreds decisions, most of which feel like they have the power to make or break your business.

Unfortunately, we all have a finite amount of mental energy. Sure, exercise can improve memory and cognitive skills. Exercise can lower symptoms of fatigue by as much as 65 percent. Exercise can help you better manage stress.

Still: Make enough decisions in one day… and decision fatigue naturally sets in. The more decisions you have to make, the harder each one is on your brain. 

Then you to stop making thoughtful decisions and start seeking shortcuts. Not because you don’t care, but because you ran out of the mental energy required to care — and make wise choices.

That’s why Southwest Airlines founder Herb Kelleher applied the one question rule to every idea, problem, and situation. He asked himself one question:

“Will this help Southwest be the lowest-cost provider?”

Filtering every issue through the one-question lens made things simple for Herb. Ideas that might help Southwest operate more efficiently were worthy of consideration; ideas that would not — like adding frills or amenities or complicated processes — were immediately rejected, no matter how smart they otherwise might have seemed.

Just apply the one question rule to the decisions you make, whether personal or professional. For Gerri, that question is, “How does this advance my personal position?”

Or put another — less seemingly selfish — way, “Will this help me reach my goal?”

Of course your one question can be more specific. Say you’re working hard to become a better leader, and at the end of a long day you overhear two employees sniping at each other. You’re tired. You’re friend. You’re done

“I’ll deal with that tomorrow,” you think.

But then you ask yourself one question: “Will this (in this case, walking away) help me be a better leader?”

Nope. Which means the decision is easy. (Okay, not easy, but at least clear.)

Try it. Think about what your business goals. Maybe you want to build a $10 million business; your one question will help you stay focused on sustainable, long-term growth. (It could be as simple as “Will this help me build a $10 million business?”

Or you can take a page from Gerri’s book — whether professionally or personally — and go broad: “Will this help me achieve my goal(s)?” 

Either way, your one question will simplify the decision-making process and take decision fatigue out of the equation.

Because you already made the right decision.

Long before a choice was ever presented to you.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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