When science was in its infancy there were only four elements: earth, air, fire, water. Researchers believed everything in the universe was comprised of these essential building blocks. Even human beings were considered an amalgam of the elements, and our personalities resulted from whichever element was most dominant.

They were wrong.

There are now 118 known elements. Fire isn’t included in the Periodic Table, while earth, air, and water are themselves composites of multiple elements.

Their error was over-simplification. They began with what they could see, taste, touch, hear, and smell. But their senses weren’t fine-tuned enough to fully flesh out their hypothesis.

Their hypothesis was correct, though. They believed everything was built of other, smaller, baser things.

That scientific suspicion led them to innovate, experiment, create, observe, tinker, test, and ultimately learn the true nature of elemental existence.

Even though they started with something too simple, they were on the right track. The same goes with many things in life. The truth is more complex that we think at first, but that doesn’t mean our first thoughts are completely untrue.

There are countless elements that make us productive: good health, education, will, etc. But the four basics of productivity—the earth, air, fire, and water, if you will—are these:

Strength: Peter Drucker said it best when he advised that we “build on the islands of health and strength,” meaning we should start with the things we are good at doing. If you have two projects on the docket, begin with the one where success is guaranteed. You’ll build momentum, confidence, and insight about how your strengths can benefit (and even infect) your areas of lesser competence.

Opportunity: Always look for “low-hanging fruit,” ways to get ahead quickly and easily that are still ethical and still matter. Imagine you’re tasked with gathering apples in an orchard. You have a short amount of time and a set amount of apples you must collect. Do you erect a ladder and begin at the top of the tree? No. You move through the orchard, grabbing the fruit that’s easiest and most accessible. You prioritize mobility, adaptability, and accessibility. You still collect apples, but you do it faster and with less effort.

Delegation: You can’t do everything on your own and, despite your feeling that no one else will do it as well as you think you do it, you need to give away responsibility. When you’re a one-man show you’re the bottleneck that keeps your organization, business, or ministry from growing. Having ten others who perform 80% as well as you do will still increase your total energy output by 800%.

Multiplication: You cannot grow quickly if you only add one customer at a time, one venue at a time, or one leader at a time. You’ve got to grow in leaps and by clumps. It takes roughly the same effort to train a group of leaders as it does to train a single leader. So why duplicate your output for diminished returns? Multiply leaders, venues, opportunities, and offerings to ensure you spend every dollar twice and invest every hour in three different directions.

In short, here is my advice on getting things done well:

Give your best energy to endeavors that require the least effort to produce the greatest gains.


Three of these four elements are people-related. That’s significant. In any business, people are what matter most. The customer is always right. The manager must be competent. The employee deserves competent command. The employer must find meaning and satisfaction in his or her work. It’s all about people.

Also of note, strength and delegation refer to existing realities within an organization. They are kinetic, and our task is to maximize their effectiveness. Conversely, opportunity and multiplication refer to things that could become part of our work if we are smart and effective. They are potential realities, and we have to look for them, cultivate them, and make them happen.