|Henry Houdini won fame as an escape artist early in the twentieth century, challenging and claiming he could free himself from any jail cell within minutes.
One time, however, something seemed to go wrong. Houdini entered a jail cell in his street cloths. The heavy metal doors clanged shut behind him, and he took from his belt a concealed piece of strong and flexible metal. He set to work on the lock to his cell, but something seemed different about this particular lock. For thirty minutes he worked without results. An hour passed. This was long after the time that Houdini normally freed himself and he began to sweat and pant with exasperation. Still, he could not pick the lock.
Finally, after laboring for two hours, Houdini – feeling a sense of failure close in around him – leaned in frustration against the door he could not unlock. To his amazement, as he collapsed against the door, it swung open! It had not been locked in the first place!
When Charles Schwab became President of Bethlehem Steel, he made consultant Ivy Lee the following offer: “Show my staff and me a way to get more things done in less time and I’ll pay you any fee within reason.” And in twenty minutes Lee gave him a simple idea.
Lee took a three-by-five card out of his pocket, handed it to Schwab and said, “Write down the six most important things you have to do tomorrow and number them in order of their importance. Now put this paper in your pocket, and first thing tomorrow morning, look at item one and start working on it until you finish it. Then do item two and so on. Do this until quitting time and don’t be concerned if you have finished only one or two. You’ll be working on the most important ones first, anyway. If you can’t finish them all by this method, you couldn’t have by any other method, and without some system, you probably wouldn’t have even decided which was most important.”
Lee waited while Schwab wrote his list. Then he said, “Try this system every working day. After you’ve convinced yourself of its value, have your employees try it. Try it as long as you wish and then send me a cheque for what you think it’s worth.”
Two weeks later Schwab sent Lee a $25,000 cheque for that twenty-five-minutes consultation. He said Lee’s advice was the most profitable he had ever taken. He later credited that lesson with turning the unknown Bethlehem Steel into the biggest independent steel producer in the world in less than five years, and earning him a $100 million fortune in the process. That was an enormous sum of money in the early twentieth century.
Was Schwab foolish to pay so much for such a simple idea? He didn’t think so. “Sure it was a simple idea,” Schwab said. “But what ideas are not basically simple? For the first time, my entire team and I are getting first things done first.”
Years ago Henry Ford remarked, “My effort is in the direction of simplicity…. All could be much simpler than they now are and at the same time be better-looking.” ‘In simplicity lies genius,’ says Mozart.
To your success!
– Uju Onyechere