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How Much Focus is Enough Focus?

Focus is one of the most important characteristics of successful founders and companies. The ability to stay focused despite the constant distractions of the startup life can very well make the difference between success and failure in a startup. Steve Jobs’ famous “Focus is about saying no” quote has set the tone for every founder that aspires to do remarkable things in life. As a founder, you are constantly reminded by advisors, , investors and even customers about the importance of staying focus on your product in order to achieve success.

However, lately I have been questioning the right level of focus that, as a founder CEO, you need to devote to a specific product or idea.

Here is my reasoning….

I put quite a big deal of effort on making sure my team stays focused every day on the task at hand. I spent a good part of my day getting rid of possible distractions that might affect our attention and focus. However, I’ve realized that, by staying to focus on a single product or problem, founders tend to shorten their perspectives about other alternatives to their product or services which, sometimes, results on missing opportunities that can make their products and company better. It is absolutely true that when you are too close to a specific problem or too deep into a specific execution path it gets really hard to look outside your world for creative alternatives.

Finding the right level of focus is an interesting dilemma that every founder should face. By not staying focus on your product you are certainly affecting your chances of being successful; however, staying exclusively focused on a specific product or idea might cause you to miss interesting opportunities to make your product even better.

What’s the right answer then?

There is no magic formula about the right level of focus a company or founder should have but I can think of a couple of tips that have worked for me. If I have to assign numbers to it, I firmly believe that a company should  stay 110% focused on the execution of their products and services but, as a founder CEO, maybe your level focus should be around 90%.

As a startup founder or CEO, your primary job is to set the vision and strategy for the company and make sure your team can stay completely focused on executing on that vision. However, in order to setup the right strategies, I would advise to give yourself the time to get a “little distracted” by looking outside your window for interesting ideas or projects. In my opinion, a controlled level of distraction will help broaden your perspective in order to make your company better.

What do you think? How much focus is enough focus?

 

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Focus on One Thing but Learn About Many

Focus is one of the most remarkable capabilities of an entrepreneur. With remarkable examples like Steve Jobs, we all have learned that staying focus on our core competencies will ultimately translate into better product execution and better companies in general. As a founder CEO, part of our job is to keep our company focus on driving towards a discrete number of goals and not derailing our attention with non-important aspects.

Even though CEOs can get extremely good at that level of execution focus, they often get so caught up in the specific subject related to their company that they forget to expand their knowledge onto different areas. As a founder CEO, it is as important to keep your team focus on the tasks at hand as it is to keep yourself defocus learning about every other subject you can. Way too often I talk to company operators that can only sustain an intelligent dialog related to their specific area of work. Great CEOs have the ability to rapidly learn about different subjects and are always hunger for expanding their knowledge. Having a broad knowledge on different areas always translates onto broaden perspective comes to make important decisions.

As I mentioned in a previous post, perspective is one of the rarest qualities to find in an entrepreneur. A broad perspective neither comes from talent nor from experience but is rather related to deep knowledge base on diverse subjects. Knowledge is important when making important decisions, when pivoting a company, when designing strategies to beat a competitor, when designing a product. During the lifetime of a company, you will be surprise how many parallels you can trace to different events in politics, sports, art, history and many other “apparently” unrelated subjects. Twitter is one of the most notable examples of how broad knowledge and perspective can help to change the world. As far as the story goes, Jack Dorsey got the inspiration for Twitter from New York City’s dispatch management systems that track the relevant events throughout the city including trains, taxis, ambulances, etc.

In addition to mastering knowledge about diverse subjects, I think technical founders and CEOs should obsess about learning as many technology subjects as possible. 70-80% of designing effective products comes from leveraging principles of existing products of technologies. There is no universal recipe for acquiring knowledge, some people read massive numbers of books (that’s me), some people prefer to meet and constantly interact with subject matter experts, some people prefer to travel. In my case I love to read; I read a ridiculous number of books every year that can range from a cheesy novel to a political science analysis.

After spending some time trying to figure out what learning methods were more effective for me, long time ago I settled for mastering subjects on a yearly basics. In that sense, every year I try to learn as much as I can about two subjects that has little to do with my work. This year I am obsessed learning about Silicon Valley history: iconic founders, VCs, etc and cognitive science. In terms of technology, every 2 weeks I try to learn about a new technology subject: right now I am focused on mastering Appcelerator. Whatever is your winning formula to learn and expand your areas of knowledge, you should obsess about staying as defocus about learning as you are focus on executing on your company goals.

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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