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Posted: May 23, 2011

Focus on the finger…

...and you'll go far

TC North

Executive and sales teams I've worked with regularly give each other the finger -- and greatly appreciate the gesture. Where did this use of the finger originate? It comes from the 1991 movie City Slickers, an entertaining flick that combined philosophy and comedy (a "philomedy")!

In the movie, Mitch, played by Billy Crystal, and two of his buddies head off to New Mexico to "find themselves." They take on the roles of cowboys and participate in a cattle drive headed by Curly, played by Jack Palance, a crusty but wise, tough-as-nails trail boss. After a rough beginning to their relationship, Mitch and Curly engage in a conversation that went like this:

Curly: "You know what the secret of life is?"
Mitch: "No, what?"
Curly: "This." (Curly holds up a single, crooked, arthritic-looking index finger.)
Mitch: "Your finger?"
Curly: "One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that, and everything else don't mean sh#*!"
Mitch: "That's great, but what's the one thing?"
Curly: "That's what you've got to figure out."


Curly's message is simple yet profound, and it's at the heart of becoming a high-performing individual or organization. We can all be high performers; both high performance and genius are created where our greatest passions and competencies intersect. For example, the only person I've ever known who could make me belly laugh until I cried, anytime she wanted, was a developmentally disabled woman named Ruth Ann. Ruth Ann struggled with many things, but she was a master of subtle humor and she loved to make people laugh.

Individually, each of us needs to figure out, what's my one thing? When we do and choose to pursue our purpose, life becomes simpler, less confusing and more focused - putting us on the path to high performance in whatever we choose.

In my last article "Nine Unusual High-Performance Traits," one of the unusual traits of high-performance organizations was an obsessive focus on two things: 1) creating a high-performance culture and 2) being known for one product, service or something that differentiates the company in its market. For organizations, the second trait is their one thing. Creating a high-performance culture is a requisite for the one thing to be sustainable.

So what's your one thing? Will you be like most people and limit yourself from becoming a high performer, or will you identify and pursue your one thing? If you choose to pursue your one thing, consider asking those around you to give you the finger to remind you to stay focused on it.

 And if you happen to see somebody give the finger, that crooked single index finger, smile and give it back.
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Dr. TC North is co-author of the Amazon bestseller Fearless Leaders. For 28 years, he has been a high-performance executive coach and speaker who helps individuals and organizations identify and attain their visions and dreams. He also has coached professional and Olympic athletes in the art of creating thoughts and emotions that maximize success. He’s a professional speaker on “Fearless Leaders” and “Master Fear.” Dr. North’s work has been featured on TV and radio and in business and scientific journals. Learn more at Contact Dr. North at 303-665-8920 or, or connect on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.





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Readers Respond

Garry, thanks for your comment! You remind me of an old saying in sports, "There are only three things you must do to be successful: focus, focus, focus. Glad you like the title, the original title for this article was different and I liked it even better, but it was deemed, "could offend someone". So the article was retitled. If you want to know the original title, shoot me a private email. It'll give you a chuckle. By TC North on 2011 05 24
"One thing" makes me think about focus! Focus on one question at a time, focus on getting the answer. As a manager focus on changing one thing at a time. As a seller--take advantage of that one-strongest-strength. Loved the title too. By Garry Duncan on 2011 05 24
Ed, thanks for the good laugh I had at your comment "I'll be sure to give my boss the finger!" about your boss). Just be clear on your finger of choice! I think I made up the word philomedy, I'd never heard it, but it made sense when I was writing this article. I appreciate your parenting ... your kids will some day. Keep the one finger philosophy thriving! By TC North on 2011 05 24
TC, great article and of course a great movie. I like that you called it a philomedy! Jack Palance was great in that role but will no longer be faking death unfortunately. However, the one finger philosophy is a classic. I think my kids got tired of dad's cliches as they were growing up and one of them became this line from that movie. I would always tell them, we all have a gift and it is your job to figure out the one gift you have. Thanks. I'll make sure I give my boss the finger! It is amazing how simple life can be some days when kept in perspective. By Ed Collins on 2011 05 23

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