“Other than the Assassination”


So, this happened …

He was shot in the back of his head, at point-blank range. He was sitting with his wife in the booth of a theatre. The assassin was a famous actor.

This is how Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, was killed . . . watching a stage show with Mrs Lincoln in 1865.

It was a significant event for the US, which impacted the course of American history.

But that night, sitting right beside him, Mrs Lincoln lost her husband.

You can just imagine the absolute pointlessness of stopping Mrs Lincoln that evening as she left the theatre, to ask her:

Other than the assassination, Mrs Lincoln, how was the show?

Simple Definition

Other Than The Assassination: This #hashtag reminds us that sometimes the main thing is so important that it becomes the only thing, and anything else is completely irrelevant.

Summarizing what it means

Stephen Covey said it nicely:

“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

Consider the following examples which emphasize that, when the “main thing” is so important, with such a significant impact on the situation, then all else becomes immaterial.

In the examples below, we see that when the “main thing” is so important that it completely dominates the discussion, then everything else is irrelevant.

  • Other than the fact that you proved yourself to be a racist bastard, you want to know how the date went?
  • Other than the fact that tuna contains unacceptable levels of toxic mercury, what do I think about ordering tuna for lunch?
  • Other than the fact that I already have too many jackets, you’re asking if I’m pleased that the jackets are on sale?
  • Other than the fact that the car chassis is bent and can’t be safely repaired, you’re asking me what I think about the price of this dodgy car you’re trying to sell me?
  • Other than the fact that the auditors will never sign off this financial transaction, you’re looking to understand whether I’m happy with the fees you want to charge to do this deal?
  • Other than his history of being a repeat offender for fraud and theft, you want my opinion on where he might best fit into this company?

This #hashtag reminds us that, sometimes, there is a factor that so completely dominates the discussion, that anything else that we might take into account just pales in comparison.

There is the main thing. And in effect, there is nothing else.

Other than the assassination?  In reality, nothing else matters.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said something similar in his well-known quote:

“Your actions speak so loudly, I cannot hear what you are saying.”

Discussing what it means

It’s amazing how many ways we humans have found to overthink things …

… and many more.

And we sometimes get caught up in irrelevant detail, rather than realizing that there really is only one decision we can make, simply because there is one factor that completely dominates the topic.

I’ve used this #hashtag-story in the past, with both members of my team and with clients. It was a simple & effective way to communicate that they should stop contemplating the problem – there really is only one conclusion or one decision that can possibly be reached.

School Programming

This mode of thinking, of comprehensively addressing all the factors when there really is just one major factor that dominates the discussion, used to be a problem for me. Instead of making “the main thing” into “effectively the only thing”, I got carried away with all the other factors that just didn’t matter.

I can trace this back to how I was taught things at school.

When writing school essays, we’d get extra marks for the additional factors which, in theory, influenced the outcome. Even though there was really just one major factor that we should be thinking about, you wouldn’t get all those bonus marks for identifying “the main thing” and just focusing on that. The best way to get high marks was to keep writing, to keep coming up with more potential factors, no matter how immaterial.

If this sounds familiar to you, you’ll definitely benefit from reading #[Luxury Bridges].

Broken Trust

I remember one particular low point in my life when I was feeling vulnerable, alone, and even isolated.

At that time, I shared some personal details of my circumstances with a friend. Her assurances of confidentiality gave me strength and reminded me that I wasn’t alone.

So when I found out a week later she had told others, I was heartbroken and felt even lonelier than before. After I confronted her, she apologized repeatedly and accepted total responsibility for her actions.

Maybe I was wrong not to forgive her, after all, she seemed sincere when apologizing. But, I found myself saying in my head, “Other than the assassination, Mrs Lincoln, how was the show?”

Indeed, the matter of broken trust is extremely important – in selling, in negotiating, in customer service, in brand awareness. Other than the fact that I do not trust you anymore, what do I think about your product?

Heck, I no longer think about your product at all!

The CV

“Look at this CV,” a team member asked me, “Would you like to interview him?”
“You mean for the analytics role we’re hiring at the moment?”
“Yes, I think he’d fit in really well.”
“But he doesn’t have the technical background, so can’t really do the job.”
“Yeah, but he’s a really nice person, you’ll get on great with him.”
“But he doesn’t have the technical background.”
“Yes, but —“
“Hey! Other than the assassination, Mrs Lincoln, how was the show?
“OK OK, I get it. Never mind then.”

The Date

“How was your date last night,” a curious colleague asked me.
“She was quite racist, actually. I won’t be seeing her again,” I explained.
“Yes, but did you connect nicely – I mean, you had similar backgrounds.”
“She was a racist.”
“Yes, but —“
“Hey! Other than the assassination, Mrs Lincoln, how was the show?
“OK OK, I get it. Never mind then.”

The Website

“Greg, look how I’ve tweaked the landing page of the new product we launched.”
“Looks nice,” I said. “What happened to sales volumes after you tweaked it?”
“Nothing changed, actually. But look how clever the heading is! Can you see my pun?”
“OK, but sales didn’t improve after you made these changes?”
“No, but I think the message is much —“
“Hey! Other than the assassination, Mrs Lincoln, how was the show?
“OK OK, I get it. Never mind then.”

Too much Information, Too little knowledge

There is no limit to the amount of information available to you. A simple online search will yield much more information than you can ever process, let alone make sense of.

The value you add to society will depend on your ability to prioritize and focus, not on making the longest list imaginable.

However, this #HashtagYourLife chapter is not merely about that. This chapter takes the most extreme case, where your prioritization must result in you ignoring everything except “the main thing”.


If I’ve mentioned this #hashtag-story even once to someone, it’s easy to reference it again by simply saying, “Other than the assassination …” and they instantly understand exactly what I mean, without further explanation.

It’s normally very easy for people to understand, even the first time, and it makes the point rather clearly and strongly.

I believe the original version of the quote is, “Well, aside from that, Mrs Lincoln, what did you think of the play?” – which appeared in a 1957 satirical column called “Potomac Fever”. But I like the version containing the word “assassination” because it allows the significance of that one factor, and thus the insignificance of the question, to stand in stark opposition to each other. My version, I believe, is more self-standing, and thus more effective for use as a #hashtag-story.

You are welcome to use any version you want 🙂

Practical Applications

Next time someone is pestering you about points of detail which are made irrelevant by some significant over-riding factor, ask them, “Other than the assassination, Mrs Lincoln, how was the show?

Next time someone is trying to distract you from your major concern by focusing on an irrelevant detail, then remind them, “Other than the assassination, Mrs Lincoln, how was the show?

Next time you find yourself procrastinating on making a decision that you’d rather not make, by arguing in your head about totally unimportant aspects of the situation, then remind yourself, “Other than the assassination, Mrs Lincoln, how was the show?

Making it personal

How well do you understand yourself?

Not everyone is necessarily an “overthinker”, but we all have a mode of overthinking that affects us more than others.

In which way do you overthink things? Go back to the list of five items at the start of {Discussion}, and think carefully about which one is your biggest trap. You don’t need to read all the articles, even just the phrase will tell you enough to know if it’s relevant to you.

When you’ve decided, click on whichever of those articles is most relevant to you. Then use the #hashtag-story to deal with that problem.

Related stories

#[Cup vs Glass]
#[Putting Trees in your Field]
#[What if I Get on the Wrong Bus?]
#[The Average Photo That You DO Take]
#[Luxury Bridges]

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