The importance of focus in business success is often stressed. You can’t do everything: pick one goal and pursue it relentlessly; allow no tangential issues to distract your energy.
But being focused is one thing; and wearing blinders is another. Sometimes the distinction can be difficult to explain, but Mike Sansone, who authors Converstations, has hit on a terrific way to draw it out. The heart of it is a story about his grandparents on a drive. Chastised for constantly checking the area all around and not keeping his eyes always focused strictly on the road, Grandfather defended himself. “I see,” he explained, “things other people miss.”
Focus without context risks degenerating into disaster. Either your target can lose its value while you continue, unawares, to pour your organization’s assets and energies into it, or something from the surrounding environment can suddenly appear in your narrowed range of view, threatening all you have accomplished and leaving you inadequate resources to react.
The target of focus is typically (and correctly) identified in an analysis of the entire environment, selected for those elements that give it value and cause it to stand out from the background, giving you both cause and the organizational ability to single it out for your attention. But having so identified it, you must avoid losing that contextual understanding of it by over-focusing on it to the exclusion of all else.
Its nature fluctuates and its features evolve in ways you won’t understand if you are too close in, lacking the perspective that gives your focus value. You will lose contact with the distinguishing features that created its worth, that are beginning to do so in new ways that you are unable to exploit because you don’t see them, or that are no longer standing out usefully from the background environment, while you, unawares, begin to chase a shifting herd and not a discrete individual goal.
Moreover, you can fail to see approaching danger. In keeping with the driving analogy, my dad taught me to glance underneath cars parked on the side of the road, especially in residential areas. That way, he explained, you might catch the running footsteps of small children before they appear in the road in front of your car.
The nearing, intersecting event may be an opportunity or a threat; in either case you need to maintain a vigilant scan of the environment in order to see it coming while you still have time to evaluate and react. Moreover, doing so will also help you continuously assess the ever-changing value and nature of your target of focus, affording you the ability to fine tune your organizational pursuit of it in a timely manner.
Don’t lose focus. But don’t lose the perspective, either, that gives that focus its meaning. Be alert to things that other managers miss.
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