Essentialism Chapter 6 Discussion Questions


Finding What matters

Questions for Essentialism

Chapter 6

This is a list of discussion questions to help work through the content of the book “Essentialism” By Greg McKeown.

You can Essentialism Questions Ch. 6

Major principles:

It is easy to get lost in the raw details and miss the significance of the facts. We have to learn to find the “lead” in our lives the way journalists analyze a story.

Key examples/illustrations

  • Nora Ephron’s experience in journalism class in finding the lead of the story.
  • Eastern Airlines flight 401 crashing a sound airplane by getting focused on a broken warning light.
  • Thomas Friedman filtering the conversation
  • The at Stanford and the development of the affordable incubator for premature babies, the “embrace nest.”
  • The importance of clarifying the question you are trying to answer when solving problems.

Questions for Reflection

  1. On p. 73-75 Nora Ephron’s account about the epiphany in high school journalism class is told. What is the difference between the “facts” of a story and the meaning or significance of a story?
  2. According to Ephron a good jounrlist is one that can not only see, sort and analyze the facts, but also give a sense of why it matters.  She says this works in life as well as journalism.  Are there areas in your life where you are swamped with data but don’t know what it all means? How can you make sense of this?
  3. In discussing the crash of flight 401, the crew focused on the light. The malfunctioning light was important, but not important enough to distract the crew from flying the plane. What are the warning issues in your life right now?
  4. Write a list of the top 5 priorities in your life (limit it to 5). How might the warning light issues in your life distract you from these?
  5. What is the 1 single problem that leads you to consistently hyper focus your attention from the big picture?  Explore the story of how this has been happening?
  6. McKeown recommends keeping a journal as a tool to see the lead in our lives and identify subtle patterns.  Complete one of the following sentences:
    1. I don’t take time to journal because _________.
    2. I do keep a journal but struggle with this because __________.
    3. I do keep a journal but I need to do better in this way ____________.
  7. If you keep a journal, go back more than 3 months and read over at least 1 month worth of entries. What are the headlines? What is the meaning of what you read?  What are the trends?
  8. McKeown tells the story of a design team attempting to create an affordable incubator (less than the $20K average cost) in order to save the lives of premature babies. The team was successful when they visited places like Nepal to see where children throughout the world are born.  Name 3 challenges that you are facing right now and think about how you can step away, and get a longer perspective for clarity.  Reflect on ways you can “get out into the field.”
  9. sometimes we face problems that are resistant to classical solutions. Think of the problems you listed in #8 and write down some of the unusual details. What are the ways in which your problems and context are unique?

Is It Too Little Butter, or Too Much Bread? Another Brilliant Blog Post From Seth Godin

Seth Godin is the master of the short blog post. And that is refreshing! I follow his blog by email and have read several of his books. He always has a unique angle on things. This post was really enjoyable, and I read it out loud to my wife. I thought I would share it with you here. If you don’t get his stuff, wander over to his site and sign up.

BTW, in addition to his blog he is always working on cool projects. I listened to his entrepreneur “Start UP School” podcast a while ago and was challenged. Find it here:

“Bilbo Baggin’s great quote about being stretched thin (“I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”) reveals a profound truth:

Most individuals and organizations complain of not having enough butter. We need more resources, we say, to cover this much territory. We need more (time/money/staff) to get the job done.

What happens if instead of always seeking more butter, we find the discipline to cover less bread?

Spreading our butter too thin is a form of hiding. It helps us be busy, but makes it unlikely we will make an impact.

It turns out that doing a great job with what we’ve got is the single best way to get a chance to do an even better job with more, next time.”

Source: Seth’s Blog: Is it too little butter, or too much bread?

The Art Of Leaving Things Undone

Noble Art of Leaving Things Undone

“Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists of the elimination of nonessentials.”

-Chinese author and philosopher Lin Yutang

Maxwell, John C. (2008-11-16). Today Matters: (p. 67). Center Street. Kindle Edition.

Essentialism Ch. 4 Discussion Questions


This is a list of discussion questions to help work through the content of the book “Essentialism” By Greg McKeown.

Download a pdf of the questions that is more friendly for journaling here: Essentialism Questions Ch. 4

Major principles:

  • Every decision is a trade off. Since we can’t have it all, choosing one thing is not choosing another.
  • What trade off do I want to make? How can I do this deliberately rather than by default?
  • What can I go big on? Rather than “how can I do it all?” or “What do I have to give up?”
  • You need time and space to adequately consider the tradeoffs before you.

Key examples/illustrations

  • Southwest airlines deliberately rejecting certain options so they could focus on their core business.
  • Businesses that choose a straddling strategy. Trying to imitate a competitor while keeping their old strategy doesn’t work.
  • Johnson and Johnson’s response to the Tylenol cyanide crisis.
  • Businesses with lengthy mission statements or lists of values.
  1. The chapter opens by talking about the financial success of Southwest Airlines which is an example of a business with an essentialist strategy. Southwest said “no” to many things so they could focus on their strategy.  What does this suggest about the promise of essentialism?
  2. A person that is chronically late and stressed is often trying to fit in “just one more” email or action item. This has a domino effect on other important things. What insignificant things are you attempting in the name of “efficiency” that are undermining your focus?
  3. Are there tasks/responsibilities that are a part of your routine just because they seem easy for you to accomplish?  Are there things that you are doing that are not a priority, but that you don’t quit because they are not difficult?
  4. We often multitask when we fail to recognize the reality of trade offs. What happens when you multitask? What trade offs are you making?  What are you giving up? What are you gaining?
  5. There is a difference between making trade offs deliberately vs. by default. Think of a significant disappointment in your life/business. Was there a tradeoff in your choices?  Was it one that you made intentionally or that you allowed others to make?
  6. McKeown suggests that lengthy mission statements and lists of values show the failure to grapple with the reality of trade offs.  Have you seen this? Do you agree or disagree?
  7. The nonessentialist says “I can do it all,” the essentialist says, “which problem do I want?”  What problems are you facing because of your attempts to do too much?
  8. Think of a choice that is in front of you right now.  Consider the options and ask “which problem do I want?” This will require you to think of the potential outcomes of saying yes to various possibilities. Reflect on this.
  9. McKeown says, “instead of asking ‘what do I have to give up?’ ask ‘what do I want to go big on?’”  Think of an upcoming personal decision and use these two questions to analyze it. Make a list. How does each approach affect your feelings about the decision?
  10. We often feel guilt because of FOMO, “fear of missing out.” How can being deliberate about your choices help with these feelings of fear or guilt?
  11. In order to make tradeoffs wisely we have to take lots of time for exploration and reflection before we commit.  Consider a recent life decision. Did you have time to truly explore the various options before choosing? Why? Why not?
  12. Mckeown says, “To discern what is truly essential we need space to think, time to look and listen, permission to play, wisdom to sleep, and the discipline to apply highly selective criteria to the choices we make.”  What grabs you the most about this statement?
  13. Why do we need this “space” in order to make decisions based on “highly selective criteria?”

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