Blurry people

What makes the difference between a good idea and great results? Though there are probably many good answers, I’ve come to believe that focus ranks right up there.  I’m not alone.  David Maister, a leading consultant to professional services firms, succinctly says “strategy means saying ‘no’.”  Jim Collins talked years ago about the hedgehog principle.

Tom Paterson, a veteran of 30+ years putting Peter Drucker’s principles to work in organizations, puts it this way:

Success is not unlimited opportunity, but focused possibilities.

In other words, achievement comes from picking the best from all of the good options, and aligning massive amounts of resources behind those few things.  When Drucker observed successful leaders, he noted that most of them focused nearly all of their discretionary time and energy on one key initiative for a matter of months (or years).

Simple, yes.  Easy, no.  Every era provides its own temptations for dragging us away from focus.  Our era is not quite like Drucker’s hay-day when letters were typed and overnight mail/faxing were the huge communication innovation.  On a micro-level, I see leaders constantly interrupted by email alerts dinging, Blackberrys buzzing, cell phones ringing, Twitter tweeting.  It’s hard to have a focused hour these days, let alone a focused year.

Add to that our current economic crisis – for many leadership teams I’m working with, the thought of focusing on something is attractive but elusive right now.  It’s like someone came in and threw their whole chessboard on the ground.  The game pieces are scattered.  They’re not even sure what game to play now, let alone where to focus.

But before we dismiss Tom’s pithy statement as irrelevant, perhaps we should ask a couple of questions:

  • Is it really true that our time is that different from the days of Drucker, Paterson, Collins, and Maister?   If so, how is it different?
  • Do the challenges of our time make focus less relevant or more? What is the alternative?
  • And practically speaking, what can we do to get the focus that will help us re-gain traction? What can leaders do to spur momentum?

I’m curious about your responses…