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The Difference Between THE and A

the-a-confessionI have a confession to make.

I’m one of those people who can latch on to subtle differences in word meanings.

You will often find me in the midst of a conversation that includes someone saying, “Isn’t this just a matter of semantics?” And, they’re usually correct.

MOST semantic disagreements are minor and not worth the effort – however, I want to focus on one such distinction that is guaranteed to create some valuable dialogue around your house, organization, or any place you hang your hat.

One of the hottest books of the past decade was written by Rhonda Byrne of Australia.

the-a-thesecretShe titled her book The Secret – a decision that I believe had a lot to do with its success.

It’s a self-help book with some rather unusual suggestions.

Want to lose weight? Don’t heed your doctor’s advice by changing your eating and exercise habits, rather follow Byrne’s suggestion that you “avoid looking at people who are overweight.” [I’m not kidding.]

In a world saturated with advice and how-to books, why did The Secret drawn so much attention?

“It was an incredibly savvy move to call it ‘The Secret.’ We all want to be in on a secret. But to present it as THE secret, that was brilliant.” [Newsweek – March 5, 2007]

Did you catch the subtle and critical difference?

Byrne’s book doesn’t promise to be ONE of a number of secrets?


It doesn’t promise to share a dozen secrets – she claims to have the THE secret.



So What Does This Have to Do With You?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I want to be A consultant who helps people brainstorm, or THE consultant who helps companies do things differently?
  • Do you want to have A shoe store? Or, would you rather be THE shoe store that caters to busy working moms?
  • Which airline would you prefer to fly? One of many who travel to New York, or THE airline with the most on-time departures.
  • Do you want to be A personal trainer, or THE personal trainer that builds champion marathoners and triathletes?
  • Do you want to be A chiropractor who adjusts people’s spine, or THE chiropractor who helps people to live a long healthy life?
  • Would you prefer to be A salesperson, or THE rainmaker of your industry who is the most connected and highly paid expert?

When I created the 100 Day Challenge it was with this question in mind:

Do I want to create A goal setting program, or THE most powerful and comprehensive program that quickly and dramatically changes peoples lives.

And when I wrote Everything Counts, the question was:

Do I want to write A leadership book, or THE definitive book on personal and leadership excellence that delivers a transformational message appropriate for anyone, anywhere.

There is tremendous value, in consideration of the difference between THE and A.


Sometimes you are defined by the products you offer – We are THE computer that runs the Mac operating system.

Sometimes your definition comes from the market you serve – We are THE exercise club that caters to busy moms by providing free child care while they work out.

Bottom line – if you can’t come up with a credible THE for your position or organization, you should probably close up shop before someone else does it for you.

It isn”t necessary to have a singular focus – the workout club with a child care area for busy moms, can attract other clients but they are THE place a busy mom can go.

Having a multi focused perspective is a necessary paradox in the new economy, but what what you can’t afford to go without is something that sets you apart for all the others who do what you do.

Remember, you’re either remarkable or irrelevant. Focus on your THE and choose to be remarkable.

WHAT TO DO NOW?: Define that which provides you, your team, family, or organization with its own unique THE.

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