Some thoughts on ‘focus’

Ask an entrepreneur whether it is good to have ‘focus’ and there is a very high chance that they will say ‘yes’, yet in my experience few actually achieve focus in their startups. I think that’s partly because there are always lots of pressures to do more and new things (often from investors and board members….), partly because killing projects is hard, and partly because focus is such a nebulous concept. It is hard to know what the right amount of focus is, and given all the pressures to de-focus most people end up not focusing enough, often by a wide margin.

Apple is frequently held out as a company that is extremely good at staying focused, and the following test from Inside Apple by ex Apple employee Adam Lashinsky is a good guide to business people everywhere who are trying to figure out whether they are sufficiently focused. From @Swaaanson’s Kindle Notes: Inside Apple by Adam Lashinsky:

No one claims to be against focus, and it’s become somewhat of a meme in the tech crowd to celebrate the idea of saying “no”:

“Focusing is powerful,” he said. “A start-up’s focus is very clear. Focus is not saying yes. It is saying no to really great ideas.”

Less appreciated, though, is that focus is scary. It means not hedging your bets. It means going all-in. If you’re not scared, you’re not focused:

Most companies don’t want to focus on one thing because they could fail. Winnowing ideas from twenty-five to four is horrifyingly scary.”

I like that. If you aren’t feeling the pain of things you’d like to be doing, but aren’t then you probably aren’t focused enough.