Is it enough to ‘Do one thing well’ anymore?


Sitting in our co-working space in York is a sign that sings a popular mantra: ‘Do one thing well. It's enough.’ As far as catchphrases go it’s pretty good. Simple, memorable and relatable, it urges you to follow a single creative path in pursuit of perfection. It promises that the ultimate reward for lazer-like focus on your craft will be one day becoming the best at it. A so-called grand master. Your lifelong dedication making all competition redundant and your work more fulfilling.

It’s a nice sentiment but it’s never really sat well with me.

Doing one thing well seems an incredibly risky strategy. Particularly these days.

In an age when anybody can do anything and lines are blurred between creative disciplines your competition can come from anywhere. Being predictable isn’t an adequate survival strategy.

If you're a newspaper, it's no longer enough to hold claim to the best journalists. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Google are better media companies.

It’s not enough for a marketing agency to be the best at a single discipline anymore. Branding needs content, which needs digital, which needs insight. Everything is integrated which means sticking simply to code, copy or column inches fails to take in the wider picture. Creatively typecasting yourself and your offer is a dangerous move.

It’s not even enough to create the best search engine. Despite having a bank balance of $100bn Google knows it can’t afford to be complacent. They recognise that no good thing lasts forever and that by hedging their bets with “moonshot” projects covering everything from driverless cars, medtech, renewable energy and even controlling objects in the virtual world they only need one of these to come in to win big again. These projects also act to energise the core company just as that early challenger motivation is wearing thin.

A lot of our business or creative heroes followed the same path. Elon. Branson. Picasso. Nelly Ben Hayoun. Jobs. The path of a polymath seems a lot more exciting.

Sure, it takes courage to move into a new realm when you’re at the top of your game. But it’s important to evolve. Creative genius so often comes by combining ideas from different arenas. At the very least the exposure will add a new dimension to your core skill.

So instead of doing one thing well, succumb to your curiosity. Take the leap. Dabble. Pivot. Don’t treat life as an apprenticeship to a single craft.

Stuart Goulden