Focusing further

Focus is about prioritisation. But that’s just the start

It’s become a truism that success for organisations comes, at least in part, from being focused.

When people extol the virtues of focus, they typically talk about it in terms of choices. Focus is about doing a small number of things: it’s about the quality of your selection, about doing the things that deliver the most value, and about having the discipline not to get distracted by other things.

The advantage of this kind of focus is that you avoid wasting your energy. By doing a short list of known-to-be-valuable things, you ensure that all your efforts deliver value. The opposite of this kind of focus is to spread yourself too thinly, or to be a busy fool that spends a lot of time on the wrong things.

Making a virtue of this kind of focus is, of course, perfectly fine. It is a kind of focus, and it’s almost always a good thing for an organisation to pursue. But it’s a limited definition, that fails to capture what makes truly focused organisations so effective.

There are two other aspects to focus that are important to recognise.

The first is focus as clarity: the clarity with which you understand and communicate your overall situation and your priorities. This is focus in the way that a good photograph is in focus, its details clear and sharp. The opposite of this kind of focus is confusion and misunderstanding: it’s perfectly possible to have focused on a short list of priorities, but not to understand them clearly, not to be able to communicate why they’re important to others, or for different people to see them differently.

The second is focus as alignment. Priorities that are aligned have a reinforcing effect on one another; it’s as though the force applied to them is multiplied. This is focus in the way that a laser focuses energy into a single point, making it significantly more powerful. The opposite of this kind of focus is to pull in different directions, for each of your priorities to feel isolated and disconnected from a greater whole.

A truly focused organisation, then, has all three qualities in what it chooses to prioritise:

  1. Selection – a short list of high-value priorities
  2. Clarity – a clear and simple communication of those priorities
  3. Alignment – priorities that mutually reinforce each other and multiply the efforts applied to them

Focus doesn’t just mean ordering your to-do list by value and doing what’s at the top. To have the discipline to focus on just a few of the things that you could do, and to choose those things based on the value they might deliver, is to be more focused than most. But to go further, and to choose your priorities more carefully – so that they’re clear and simple and able to be easily communicated, and so that they’re thoroughly aligned and mutually reinforcing – is to be able to focus further, see further and go further.