Easy. Obvious, even.

So I have this pattern. I get an idea, implement it and then think “Hey, this is so obvious. Why haven’t I done this before?” Looking back now, I can see that 3 or 4 of these “patterns” have significantly shaped my trajectory through life. No, they haven’t led to personal epiphanies about how to deal with complicated family issues or led me to the perfect parenting principles. But they have led me to make some changes in my work and in my thoughts about work. And these changes have made all the difference.

But then I look at these “patterns” and think, these are so obvious. So elementary. How can such “obvious” ideas generate such a fundamental shift in my universe? Thanks to Derek Sivers, I now have a good answer to these questions. But first, let’s examine some of these watershed moments.

I was every parent’s nightmare. The bright kid floating through college with a commitment problem. Oh, I could pick a major. The problem was staying committed. And graduating with a degree. My parents went along with this trend for the first 3 years, but eventually they’d had enough. And since I was skating through college on their dime, I can’t say I blame them. So here I was, looking through the student course guidebook for inspiration. (And yes, I’m old enough that the guidebook was a book. No jokes please.) I found a field of study I’d never seen before–technical writing. And I thought, how hard can this be? I can write. I’ll just write about technical things. So I took an introductory class. And the class was easy. Obvious even. So I went to my professor to see what I was missing. Dr. Wilma Clark gave me some of the best (and most elemental) advice I’ve ever received. “If it seems obvious to you, then you’d better do it.” I left her office and declared a new major. Technical writing led me to my college internships and my first job. And it has served as an outstanding foundation for everything that has come later. Even if it did seem obvious.

Flash forward 8 years. I’ve been working for an enterprise-resource planning (ERP) software company creating documentation. I’ve created manuals, online help and training guides, but I was getting tired of creating the same content in a variety of formats. Enter JoAnn Hackos and the “new” idea of Single Sourcing documentation. Single sourcing is all about writing content once and re-using at the point of implementation/need. So rather than writing content in book format, write it in granular concepts that can be strung together to create books, online help or whatever else you need. This “single sourcing” principle led me to think about my work differently and connect with others in my field in a new way. And I said – hey, this is easy. Obvious even. With JoAnn Hackos and my mentor Roz Tsai’s help, I started sharing our single sourcing story with others. I spoke at conferences, taught seminars and found a new passion for training and connecting with people.

Skip ahead another 6-8 years and I have an idea for using SharePoint in a new way. I want to build SharePoint sites that help people automate their manual processes. I want the sites to rely on SharePoint lists rather than just document libraries. And I start coercing people into going through an information architecture and content review process prior to creating a SharePoint site. All this worked pretty well, but then my boss and I had a stroke of genius. What if we calculated the return on investment (ROI) on these sites? If I looked at how long a process took before SharePoint entered the picture and then looked at how much process time I’d saved with SharePoint business automation, I could calculate how much of a difference I’d made. So I calculated ROI on my first SharePoint project. And it was easy. Obvious even. But after sharing my ROI calculations with others, I discovered how unusual this kind of ROI evaluation was.

There are many more examples, but they all follow the same trend. I stumble onto something (often without much original thought on my part) and think “hey, this is easy. Obvious even.” And I scratch my head, trying to figure out why I’m not surrounded by others thinking the same thing. I never assume that I’m on the leading edge. Quite the opposite, I assume I’m the thought laggard. But then a few weeks ago I saw a YouTube video that explained it all. It is Derek Sivers’ video “Obvious to you. Amazing to others.”

This video is about me and the way I think. I’m guessing it’s about you, too. Take a look.

Want to see more of Derek Sivers’ deep thoughts? Check out his site (http://sivers.org/) or follow him on Twitter (@sivers).



  1. The ROI calculations are more impactful and realistic when you get the before and after documented. Great job and transferrable to others doing the same thing, if they’re willing to apply similar discipline.

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