A friend runs a struggling small business. His background is in operations and process improvement background, so he naturally searches for ways to improve efficiency, reduce waste, and increase throughput.

Unfortunately, the nature of his business -- and its equipment, supply, and fulfillment costs -- makes his fixed costs too high to overcome through variable cost savings.

No matter how hard he tries, he won't be able to save his way to profitability. The only way his business will become profitable is if he increases revenue.

He needs to embrace the immortal words of Mortimer Duke and, "Sell, sell!"

But he hates to sell. (Hates to sell.) Plus, he doesn't feel he's good at sales. So he focuses on what he does think he does well: Improving operations.

Even though focusing on sales would make a much bigger impact on his business.

Deep down, that's something he knows. But even though it's what Adam Grant calls an "obvious insight," he prefers to ignore that reality.

The same applies to losing weight.

Health benefits aside, most people know that health and fitness can also play a major role in success. Research shows cardiovascular exercise improves memory and cognitive skills. That exercise improves your mood. That exercise is an effective tool for managing stress and anxiety

So if you're overweight and out of shape, and looking for a way to take your business to the next level, improving your health is a great place to start.

But it's almost impossible to lose a significant amount of weight through exercise alone. Even though it sounds hard -- and even though most people feel they aren't good at it -- you have to diet.You have to consume fewer calories than you burn.

Oh, I know. "All calories are not created equal." Or, "My metabolic rate is different." Or, "I have a thyroid problem that makes it impossible for me to lose weight." 

Granted, some calories are better for you than others. Different people do have different metabolic rates. Some people do have medical conditions that make losing weight really, really hard.

But for the vast majority of us, the math is simple: To lose weight, take in fewer calories than you burn. (Shoot, you can go on a diet consisting solely of ice cream for a week -- a dopey experiment I've long considered -- and as long as you eat fewer Rocky Road calories than you burn, you will lose weight.)

Say you want to lose two pounds a week. You'll need to burn 1,000 more calories than you consume.

Most people can't do that. The average person needs to work out vigorously for around 90 minutes to burn 1,000 calories. (I know: Some workouts claim you can burn 1,000 calories in 45 minutes. But most people, including me, can't maintain the intensity required to burn 1,000 calories that quickly.)

So, even though you work out, you'll also need to eat less. Even if you don't want to eat less. Even if you desperately want to find some eating or exercise plan that will allow you to lose weight without eating less.

Deep down, you know. You just don't want to know.

Even though it's an obvious insight.

The same applies to getting new employees off to a great start. After extensive research, Google found that employees whose managers met with new employees on their first day to talk about roles and responsibilities got up to speed 25 percent faster than those whose managers did not.

Yet many managers did not. They were too busy. Too focused on other things. Too ... too something. Even though the impact -- if only on making a new employee feel welcome and valued -- was obvious.

Want more? 

  • Research shows that when employees believe promotions are managed effectively, they are more than twice as likely to work harder and five times more likely to believe their leaders act with integrity. Promote on the basis of seniority, and employees quickly realize that what matters is putting in the time. Promote "buddies" and employees quickly realize that establishing personal relationships matters -- not productivity. Obvious insight: How you make promotion decisions matters.
  • Google research shows the best leaders establish standards and guidelines, and then give their employees the autonomy and independence to work the way they work best within those guidelines. Obvious insight: Micromanaging doesn't work.
  • 2020 study published in the Journal of Business and Psychology set out to determine which people get chosen -- not selected by superiors, but informally chosen by their co-workers -- to be leaders of virtual teams. Employees choose doers: people great at planning, prioritizing, staying on task, and helping others stay on task. Obvious insight: In a virtual setting, where interpersonal interactions are less frequent, people care a lot less about outgoing, charismatic, "inspirational" leaders. They want to work for (and with) people who get things done.

Deep inside, we know those things. They're obvious.

Yet all too easily, in the clutter and noise of new and improved and trendy and "groundbreaking," we somehow forget.

Consider one of your most important goals. Then take a step back. Don't think about what you want to do to accomplish it. Don't think about what you like to do. Don't think about what other people do.

Think obviously. 

To fix your bottom line, the answer is probably simple: Focus on sales. To lose weight, the answer is simple: Cut calories. To minimize the onboarding curve -- and improve employee engagement -- spend time with new employees on their first day, and establish regular check-ins during those first few weeks.

Promote based on actual, not political, achievement. Choose leaders who help people get things done. Treat customers the way they want to be treated. Recognize and praise the behaviors you want your employees to display. Stop multitasking during meetings so your employees will feel their contributions are valued and respected.

All of those are "duh" insights. All are obvious.

And can be the most powerful drivers for change.