Pondering the question of focus

I had a really interesting conversation today with an executive in the company we acquired last year. She was talking about how different their (old) corporate culture was, and how that has probably been the hardest part of the integration over the last year. One of the biggest differences she sees is that their culture has always been fully focused externally – working with and for their customers, usually to the exclusion of everything else. She and her colleagues hear us talk about customer focus and kind of giggle. In their eyes they don’t talk about it, they just live it.

inside outside

This discussion has been bumping around in my brain since then. I’ll acknowledge that my company does a fair bit of navel gazing, and sharing internally, and focusing on developing employees. So I’m struggling with… defending isn’t really the right word. I’m thinking about pros and cons of internal focus in an effort to help explain how having a balance of the two can in fact strengthen the moments of external focus. And what I’m writing is really me thinking out loud.

It seems to me that if you are constantly in external focus mode, you don’t have time to strategize. Without time to reflect, how do you learn? And if it is all about forging ahead, how do you spread knowledge to reduce the learning curve for those around you? Serendipitous events wouldn’t have the ability to become movements. Continuous improvement has no chance when there is no time to even glance inward. Personal growth is stunted by a lack of time and energy. And actually, looking at that shell image I inserted into this post make me think about analogies. How every person is then in their own little cell where the only window is looking outward. You can’t see what’s going on to either side of you. You are blinkered.

Obviously too much internal focus means you are spending too much time within your own four walls never looking out. While this allow things to stay neat and clean, and gives you plenty of time to spruce the place up, if you have no one to show it off to, there’s not much point. And in business, that would also mean that you’d eventually run out of customers because you’ve spent too much time talking about how to make them the focus on not enough time just doing it.

So how to explain to convince someone that taking time away from that external focus can make the time they spend externally more valuable? That internal focus can help renewing, refresh and refocus employees? That having that minute to breathe can spark the creativity needed to solve thorny problems?

I see a glimmer, and so maybe it just takes patience and some examples. A little evidence and some more time to quell the fear. And maybe, just maybe, this ties back to my earlier thoughts on trust.

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When the job’s too big

Appalachian Trail sign

I’m getting ready for a family visit in conjunction with my daughter’s graduation party, and the tasks in front of me seemed overwhelming. I’ve fussed over it for months, wondering how I’d have enough time to get everything done.

Now that I’m almost atop the mountain, I’m remembering that like I already knew, focusing on what’s in front of you and taking it one step at a time actually works. Pay attention to the footfalls in front of you. Tackle the stream crossing you see instead of the river you are afraid is coming. Before you know it, the summit is in sight.

And instead of agonizing over where to start, just start. Usually there really is no “right place” to start, simply action or inaction. Choose action. Make a dent. Retreat is OK. If needed, you can find a different starting place tomorrow. Don’t fear a false start, because it was a start!

Because this job is not yet over, my time to post is limited. And even with this, I needed to just post. I know my words aren’t new, but they are a reminder to me if no one else. When I think I can’t, do it anyway. When I’m paralyzed with the enormity of something, focus on one small piece – because the pieces can all be made small.

Here’s to more TOL posting after the rest of the mountain is crested!