Back to all posts

Video: The Good + Fast + Cheap Pyramid (choose ONLY 2 of the 3 and get to work)

advance priorities time video May 09, 2017


In a sitcom that played in the last decade, Bernie Mac's wife, Wanda, wanted a renovation job performed on their house. And she wanted it done “good, fast, and cheap.” That is... 

  • She wanted it done with excellence,
  • She wanted it done yesterday, and...
  • She didn't want to pay a lot for it to be done

Bernie told her that you can choose 2 of the 3- no more. He proceeded to sketch a triangle, telling her that each of these three options (good, fast, cheap) were at opposite corners. Unfortunately, she could only have 2 of them...


"You'll have to make a choice," he said. "Because what you're wanting is impossible."

Side note: I know, no lady reading this has ever heard her husband say that; no husband has ever thought it :-)

Here’s how he described it to her (and how I apply it to virtually anything you do):


First, you've got to be invested in the project

Bernie Mac first said something like this: You can build fast and cheap, but it won’t be good. In other words, if you rush through steps it takes to actually do what you want to do the right way, your final product will be weak.

In general, people who want something quick and without cost (read: fast and cheap) aren't actually invested in the outcome. They like the idea of the outcome more than the reality of actually learning through the process and then reaping the rewards!

You've got to be invested in the outcome at some level!

Two examples for you...

A few  years ago my wife started a home-based business, and she was highly invested in the outcome. She's done it extremely well by investing in knowledge about the products, how Young Living (the corporation) operates, and how her business should best function. Without taking a significant amount of time on the front end to do this, she would create a flimsy organization.

There are no shortcuts. You've got to decide if you're "in" it or if you're not. 

Think about it in Cristy's case. If she wasn't invested, people would get frustrated and the thing would likely fizzle, leaving a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Young Living is growing strong twenty years in because of the founder’s commitment to do things consistently “good” (read: excellent) instead of cheap- and because of distributors' work ethic to continue doing things well. 

She's invested- and people see, sense, and feel that investment. 

I know. It seems like no one would do anything unless they were invested in the outcome, right? But, we do it all the time. Surprisingly, we even "auto-pilot" ourselves through big projects. 

For instance, I spent some time consulting a nonprofit religious organization where no one- not even the senior leader- was invested in the outcome. My contracted services included things like-

  • Writing new curriculum for them (based on concepts they had already been teaching),
  • Creating an organizational structure (the org chart they had when I arrived looked more like a game of Chinese Checkers than anything remotely resembling an actual work environment )
  • Over-hauling the bylaws and operational procedures (they were functioning largely on "oral tradition" of how things were *expected to be done rather than anything written down)

I began working on an aggressive timeline- one outlined with the senior leader of the organization, who had insisted this was "their season" for change. He insisted we move with urgency and speed.

Time was of the essence. "The time is now," he told me. 

I believed him. I thought they were all in, ready to make progress. 

So I began interviewing and note-taking and writing. And I began submitting drafts of class materials. After a few weeks it was time to meet and discuss the first drafts. 

A few key leaders attended the meetings... and hadn't read a thing! Get that, the first time they were reviewing documents they'd paid good money to have created specifically for them is at the meeting when we're sitting down to bring edits and recommendations!

Yes, they were paying me thousands of dollars to create a new system for them, but they clearly weren't invested. Though they were paying for the materials I was generating, they were expecting an outcome that was good, fast, and cheap- with no investment from themselves

* No time

* No reading

* No intellectual energy or mental processing

I was writing faster than they were reading (materials created for them). I was communicating vision and ideals to be implemented- in simple language, based on longer meetings I'd had with key leaders. 

The person to whom I was reporting to shifted a few times throughout the project. And, everything became laced with innuendo, miscommunication, and growing tension the more things moved forward. 

Though no one would articulate it this way, they were expecting an instantaneous result- one that didn't require any investment on the front end

Would you be surprised if I told you that within a month post-contract this group dismantled an entire website that was created specifically for them? One that was edited 2-3 times with their leaders? 

What about the fact that they wanted to take all of the materials that were created for them and "edit" them (read: cut most of the pages from them, reducing them to outlines)?

How could they...? The simple answer is that they are amazing people. However, they were never invested in the outcome. In order for any project to move forward, you've got to decide that it's actually something you want to do...

* This is true if you're learning a new skill... 

* This is true if you're crushing a health & fitness goal...

* This is true if you're pursuing a relationship...

It's easy to criticize, quit, stop, postpone, put off, ignore, re-do, or forget about something you're not committed to. No investment = the outcome won't be good. Ever.


What if you don't have time + energy to invest?

The religious organization could have learned what Bernie Mac told Wanda about contracting.

You can build good and cheap, but it won’t be fast. That is, if you pace yourself and begin taking steps forwards in your business, you will eventually arrive at your goal- whatever that goal happens to be.


It just depends on the effort (read: cheap or expensive) you put in.

Cristy's business grew quickly, because she invested time on the front end- to do it well. To learn the products. To understand the culture of the company. To figure out how to mesh her marketing "classroom" experience into the world of network marketing. 

The religious organization I worked for during that season... well... they never implemented anything that was created for them. They didn't want to invest on the front end. They should have looked to this option of implementing slower... over time... and working on their project consistently. 

Investing "less" over the long haul is a legitimate option. 

In fact, this is how financial planning works. Many people begin investing when they're younger, then put a little bit away each month (read: cheap). Over time, they make tremendous progress, effectively retiring and living off a portion of their check that they never missed. 

On the other hand, yes, there are people who set up their retirement at the last minute. They have to invest much more aggressively. 

The same dynamic that works in the world of finances also works in projects and tasks, though. When I was in seminary, there were a few of us who were moving through the 3-year degree in 2 years. We were taking extra classes, pushing through full courses during mini-terms, and working at a much higher rate of investment. 

There were also two men in one of my Monday evening classes that were taking 1-2 classes per semester. Their goal was to graduate the 3-year program in 9-10 years! 

(Lest they appear lazy, these men were both investing heavily in their families and in their full-time jobs. I didn't have either at the time, so I had plenty of time to throw at school!)


Aggressive growth strategies

Finally, yes, if you don't want to wait to get results, you can go "all in." This is, honestly, what I thought the religious organization that hired my services wanted- based on what they told me in multiple meetings. They talked the talk. We mapped it on paper.

And here's what I saw... 

You can build fast and good, but it won’t be cheap. You’ll pay in terms of long hours, lots of phone calls, lots of stress, and a stack of emails and Facebook private messages that will send most people into a panic attack.

That doesn’t mean it can’t be done; it just means you need to know it won’t be cheap. You must do things with excellence (read: good).

During a three month season....

* I created three separate websites

* I wrote 700-plus pages of material, spread over the course of three books

* I created a presentation to communicate the bigger picture of the changes to take effect at the organizational level

It was a high cost proposition! I was invested!

If you're invested, you are left to decide if you are going to do things fast (with a high cost) or slow (with a lower cost).

What's the cost? Time away from your family. Emotional and mental energy. The things you won’t be able to do if you do this well (i.e., some of your hobbies will take a back seat, other activities you may currently enjoy).  



The problem of comparing your Good-Fast-Cheap Pyramid to someone else's

Many times, we're comfortable and cozy with our pace. We actually enjoy our progress.

Then we start looking around, even innocently. The problem comes when we see others' success and get disenchanted.

Now, don't get me wrong, comparison can be a great thing. On one hand, it shows us what's actually possible. Therefore, it's great to surround yourself with great people who do incredible things.

At the same time, it's easy to look at their greatest hits moments and compare their snapshot of success to your long drudge of work- and forget they've endured the same setbacks and conflicts that  you're enduring. Sure, their history may have some low moments that yours doesn't contain- as yours has moments that are different than theirs. But everyone has some version of failure in their past.

And sacrifice.

And disappointment.

And betrayal.

And long hours of working without seeing any results.

It's easy to look at the "tip of the iceberg," though, the stuff above the surface. And, when we do, it's easy to forget all of their hard work and their disappointments... all of their "stuff," in other words.  




Overnight success usually isn't "overnight." That is, "fast" is usually a bit slower than we thought it would be.

And "cheap" usually costs a bit more than we anticipated.

Find your groove, commit, and settle in... In time, you'll get where you're headed.  



You might also like these tools to help you get there!- The Ladder- an online course pulled from the Advance weekend, with tools guaranteed to help you navigate from where you are to where you're designed to be!


Never miss a new post + podcast!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.