I wise man once said, “if you chase two rabbits, both will escape”. In business, this means you better learn to focus on what really matters. One of the most common challenges for entrepreneurs is running the business in a state of chaos, chasing numerous rabbits to skin. The inability to step back from the fray to digest the full picture of events can be crippling. For years I felt my ability to “hyper-focus” was a competitive advantage. I could work for days on end, attacking ultra-fine areas of our business, finding holes in our plans, making adjustments to our finances or strategies, and I would complete those bouts of work with a sense of accomplishment. This same strength provided me with the fortitude required to tweak our plans with days thought and then pivot the business into new directions, potentially shuttering previous plans.
All of that sounds great. But…., the thing is, once I would enter those days of hyper-focus, I often found myself with blinders on. Those blinders would make it challenging to take into account the ancillary forces impacting our business when making critical decisions. Accessing the focus I worked so hard to achieve blinded me to where I often couldn't see the forest for the trees. That focus also created the result of making my spreadsheets turn out the way I wanted. Those spreadsheet calculations, and my unyielding belief that I was onto something extraordinary, became an Achilles Heel in too many occasions to recall. Business leaders must enjoy the capacity to hyper-focus while keeping the big picture in mind.
Entrepreneurs are risk-taking, visionary crazy people, that sense an opportunity, many times the same opportunity that many others see, but the entrepreneurs actually access the grit it takes to start a business. Tunnel vision is a key ingredient when starting and building a business. The only way to succeed is throwing everything into the new creation and then living in a world of focus. Entrepreneurs must master the art of focusing on everything and only one thing all during the same day, switching back and forth, throughout the day. Talk about a multiple personality disorder!
After four startups, I have tried numerous approaches to reduce the mental clutter so I could truly focus, to compartmentalize the non critical, yet balance the decision making among the peripheral issues. For me, I found a few strategies that worked well:
- Always keep the long-term goal in mind
- Create a short list of strategies to pursue related to the particular issue
- Build your pro and con list for each strategy and quickly (within days) eliminate the outliers
- Coalesce around the most likely strategy to reach the goal
- Sleep on it
- Pick, commit, and act
What I found time and again is that you should be able to quickly create momentum around the best alternative to solve the problem. In doing so, you utilize tunnel vision, over a period of a few days, to focus on a particular challenge, while allowing yourself time to rest and reflect on the problem and potential solutions. Where many entrepreneurs get fouled up is by letting the problem linger and then watching helpless as the problem grows like a cancer. Challenges within the business will get worse if left unaddressed. Attempting to solve dozens of minor challenges at the same time you are fighting a major fire will only lead to more challenges.
Abraham Zaleznik, former professor emeritus and psychodynamics leadership scholar at Harvard, said “Keep focused on the substantive issues. To make a decision means having to go through one door and closing all others.” This statement sums up virtually all key decision-making attributes required of business leaders. Leaders obtain success by balancing hyper-focus for problem solving while constantly sensing the subtle market shifts impacting the business.
The best entrepreneurs have an innate ability to access tunnel vision in short spurts while still seeing the big picture. This paradoxical personality asset can make or break a company. Do what it takes to learn to run with blinders on when they are needed while always maintaining your view on the long term needs and strategies.