Focus in life is so important. Before we can focus, though, we must know what we are great at and what we are not. This is true for our personal lives as well as organizationally.
Raising children who are in the stage of life when they are trying to figure this out has made it clearer to me that when you don’t know yourself or what you’re good at, it is hard to focus. You tend to drift and if you continue to drift, you may become good at several things but truly excellent at nothing. I reflect on my own life and now that I’m middle age – sometimes I hate to admit that – I realize that probably I could have been more “successful” if I had concentrated on my strengths instead of becoming the jack of all trades, so to speak.
It’s hard to say "no" because in doing so, there’s always the thought that we may miss out on some incredible opportunities. The late Steve Jobs of Apple said that “Focus is about saying No.” Sometimes, focus is saying no even to good opportunities and learning to say "yes" to the great opportunities. The key is to know the difference. The key to knowing the difference lies in our ability to honestly identify what we can and cannot do great.
I, for one, have never been great at admitting there is something that I’m not good at doing. I like a challenge and if someone tells me that I can’t, I usually set out to prove I can. But, as I grow older, or more mature as some would say, I realize there is so much that I don’t know and I will never be excellent at everything.
Organizations have the same challenges. The other day, I heard that Walmart was venturing into the banking industry. Although Walmart is a different animal, my first thought was "Why would a retail store go into a totally different business sector." One could argue that Walmart’s goal is to bring goods, and now services, to the “common” person so that one could afford things that they would not otherwise. But where does it all stop? Will they be more effective as an organization by further diversification or not? What drives our decisions to take opportunities or not?
Knowing that we all have blind spots, another key element to focusing is to have positive “voices” in our lives that know us well, love us, and are able to be bluntly honest with us. For some, that is a best friend, for others, it may be a spouse or parents; for others, it may be a board of directors. For me, it’s all of the above. These relationships have been key to my life and work. Although, I've not always listened, wisdom says that I should. Proverbs says that “in a multitude of counselors, there is wisdom.” We need to be open to asking for honest feedback from those we trust and then, sincerely listen.
If you have any thoughts or comments on the subject of focus, I’d love to hear them… Thanks!