On maximizing leverage

Here are a list of ways to answer a question, in order of low to high leverage:

  1. Answering one person’s question in a direct message (so only the person asking the question benefits)
  2. Answering one person’s question in a public channel (so anyone else following the channel that day can benefit)
  3. Answering one person’s question by documenting the answer and sharing the link with them (so anyone searching the docs in the future can benefit)
  4. Take action (fix a bug, add automation, etc.) to make the question obsolete so nobody ever asks it again

One of my favorite coaching questions is: “What’s a higher leverage version of that?” It depends on the task, but usually that means “how can you solve that problem in a way that helps more people?” Or sometimes it means “how can you do that thing in a more permanent way?”

Of course, the failure mode is in going too far. I’m sure we’ve all worked with gold platers who never know when to stop and move on. Example: in my 1-4 list at the top of the post, stopping at #3 might be the right answer because #4 might be 10x or 100x the effort for only a mild increase in value. So the sweet spot is the small increase in effort which drastically increases leverage. The 80/20 rule applies here, as you’d expect.

I love writing because it’s incredibly high leverage (and since it gives me energy, it’s low effort). I write something once and it can be shared endlessly (if it’s worth sharing). But if writing is a low energy activity for you, brainstorm other ways to increase the leverage of your work. Record and share demos of the thing you did. Turn that janky script of yours into a tool you can distribute internally. Write better automated tests to make that bug you fixed impossible.

Whatever it is, if it’s something you do once which could benefit unlimited people in the future, that’s a sign of high leverage.

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