Can I stop ragging in my college

The Paul principle

Jack Welch

Shortly after taking the helm of General Electric in the early 1980s, Jack Welch had his Eureka! Moment. Just like Archimedes, Welch bathed when he decided that GE would stop doing business in any industry where it couldn't be number one or number two. It was that decision, more than any other, that was responsible for positioning GE as the beauty of the ball for the remainder of Welch's tenure.

But I think the secret to the success of Welch's decision lay less in his insight than in his ability to implement that insight. Any manager who has ever cut a line of business, killed a department, or stopped developing a promising product knows that deciding to give up one path in favor of another course is one of the toughest decisions to make. Still, it's absolutely critical to success. Steve Jobs once told a group of Stanford students that "the secret to innovation is saying" no "to a thousand things. "I think the same goes for our careers and our personal lives.

The Paul Principle states that progress in virtually all areas of life and work depends directly on our ability to consistently and frequently rob Peter in order to pay Paul. Every situation has both Peter factors and Paul factors. Both factors are equally “good” when viewed independently of one another. However, when they are in the same situation they are competing for in attention, time, energy, money, or other resources, the Peter Factor and the Paul Factor cannot coexist peacefully.

Think about the experience of buying a car. Most car buyers consider the important factors to be such as price, quality, safety, design, fuel economy, etc. The problem is that no single vehicle will beat all the others in every category. The car that wins the prize loses its safety and design. The car that wins in styling loses security and price. Despite the amazing mileage of the Smart Car, it has no storage space for camping gear and on the highway it feels about as safe as a souped-up Vespa. The only way to get back on the streets and get on with your life is to determine which Peter factors you prefer - but the things you prefer but still want to rob you (possibly security and styling) - to meet the Paul factor requirements (maybe price).

The same goes for the time you spend your free time playing with your kids, getting ahead at your job, playing sports, calling loved ones, having a drink with friends, volunteering at your church, or - heavenly - to relax. As a parent, you need to make a sober assessment of soccer practice, piano lessons, homework, video games, family meals, and at least 13 other perfectly healthy ways to fill a child's day and see what opportunities Peter offers and what opportunities Paul offers.

Mary Frances Luce of Duke's Fuqua School of Business found that robbing Peter to pay Paul was actually so emotionally upsetting that people do all kinds of mental gymnastics to avoid it. Instead, we tend to rag and bite ourselves off a lot more than we can chew just so we don't have to let go of Peter. This is why those executives - corporate or household - who regularly apply the simple logic of the Paul Principle become much happier and more successful.

Fortunately, psychologists have made tremendous advances in this area over the past few years. We now know the three forces that enable us to apply the Paul principle consistently. I'll cover this next week.