Focus…and decide what NOT to do

I was reminded recently of the story about the first meeting between Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.  As told in The Snowball by Alice Schroeder, Gates’ mom, the host, asked the dinner guests at the table what the single biggest factor was in their success.  Both Gates and Buffett chose the same word – focus.  When Jobs returned to Apple as CEO, one of his first actions was to eliminate a plethora of product development activity and to narrow to four products – everything else was slashed – he brought focus.  He is quoted as saying “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.”  And he’s right.

“But you chose Jobs, Gates and Buffett – it’s easy for them to pick out focus with hindsight – they’re among the most successful business people that ever lived” you might say.  “True” I would respond.  However, I have also had the good fortune to work with some wildly successful, and some not so wildly successful, executives and teams and I have seen this play out time and time again.  Focus matters, and if well applied, can forge the structure of success.  As a leader, entrepreneur, or manager, your #1 role is to allocate scarce resources toward hopeful success.  Every nanosecond spent outside your area of focus is arguably a wasted resource.  Every new project you agree to take on, or allow your team to take on, dilutes resources and focus.  I’ve never understood why choosing a focus, and sticking to it, is so hard for so many people, but I can tell you I have seen the the results at both ends of the spectrum.  And if you can improve your ability to focus, learn, and to be patient over long periods of time, you can improve your probability of success.