“Do the most important thing.” – Paul GrahamSimple, elegant, and something that has likely been said over millennia—this has been the phrase that has echoed over and again in my mind since I saw Paul Graham speak at the 2014 Launch Festival in San Francisco.

Paul Graham at #Launch 2014
Paul Graham, at Launch Festival 2014

 

In his afternoon keynote on the first full-day of the conference (Monday, February 24, 2014), Paul shared what he has learned at the helm of Y Combinator (YC)—arguably the accelerator that catalyzed the launch of hundreds of other accelerator and incubator programs designed to spur innovation and provide an alternative pathway for thinkers and founders to become companies.  He reflected on the past decade, the kinds of founders YC has selected in the past, his changing role in the organization, and his announcement that he will be stepping back from day-to-day operations at YC.

He said that when he meets with founders he often prods them to identify their most important next task—-and to focus on doing exactly that thing.

It is apt advice for the entrepreneur and especially so for a mission-minded social entrepreneur serving multiple stakeholders.

All too often founders can get distracted, sidetracked and perhaps overwhelmed, causing them to spread ourselves thin and focus on multiple targets simultaneously. But, in practicing Paul’s advice, much of the surrounding noise dissipates and is replaced with focused attention and follow-through.

I hadn’t heard Paul speak before, and was struck by his easygoing, open style. After hearing him, I imagine this as a typical, garden-variety talk between Paul and a founder:

Paul: “Hey [Founder], so what’s the most important thing right now?”

Founder: “X”

Paul: “Yeah, go do that.”

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