Are you too focused?


As the New Year begins, and you think about the objectives you have for your business and yourself, I’d like to put some conventional wisdom on its head.  We hear over and over that we all need to “focus,” to pare down what we care about to just a very few key elements in order to succeed.

I understand the logic. It is, clearly, much easier to concentrate on one or two things than some larger number.  But, it is also misguided.


I’m reminded of a time many years ago when I was learning to fly.  I had received my pilot’s license and was then working on getting qualified to fly under instrument conditions, where visibility outside the cockpit was essentially zero.

To simulate this condition, student pilots wear a “hood” that only allows them to see the instrument panel, while the instructor pilot remains with eyes outside the airplane for safety.  I was shooting an approach into the Rochester, NY airport, and was terribly pleased with myself since I had absolutely pegged the needle on the centerline indicator of the runway instrument landing system.  I was lined up perfectly, even in the face of a nasty crosswind trying to push me off course.

My instructor let me revel in my “focus” for a bit and then told me I could take off my hood.  This was not unusual, as he often did that to allow me to actually land the plane at the end of a successful approach.  As I took off the hood, I looked to my right to see, much to my shock, that I was flying right alongside an apartment building!  I was indeed lined up on the runway, but had gotten so focused on that one instrument, that I neglected another, perhaps more important indicator, called altitude!  I had fallen victim to what most student pilots do in their early training.  My “scan” had broken down – scan being the process of continually shifting your gaze around the instruments so you don’t get so focused on just one element of the plane’s status that you miss something else.


To drive home the point in another domain, this being football season, we’ve all watched a quarterback lock in on his primary receiver, who is well covered, while not noticing a secondary one standing all alone in the end zone for a potential touchdown waving frantically, if only the quarterback wasn’t so focused.  The great players have a scan that enables them to see the entire field of play, and find that open receiver.


I think the same thing holds true in business and in life.  Sure, we all need to have some “primary” goals or “primary instruments” we monitor to see if we are on track for success. But, we can over focus on those at our peril.  If we allow ourselves the lazy luxury of not keeping an active scan on all the elements of the business, we can find ourselves optimizing for one thing (like the runway centerline), and run right into that apartment building by flying too low.


So, what are you focused on this year?  Are there other things you need to keep “in your scan” even though they aren’t at the top of your list?  Perhaps it would be wise to actually make a list of not just your “primary instruments” but also your “secondary scan” ones so that during the year you don’t find yourself too focused.  And then decide what process you’ll put in place to make sure you, too, don’t get stuck looking at just one thing.


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