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Creativity vs Distraction: staying focussed

finding your focus

Beware of shiny things

One of the dangers of being a visionary or entrepreneur is that you can get distracted by ‘shiny things’.

What’s a shiny thing? Anything that’s not your core business. Especially if your core business isn’t finished yet.

“As soon as you become an entrepreneur – and especially if you are also a parent and spouse – you enter into the Game of Priorities. 99% of what comes at you is noise, and 1% is what you get to laser-focus on. Since I have three businesses, a daughter, and a husband, I’ve become good at compressing 100 hours of to-dos into ten hours by the sheer power of focus.”

Angela Jia Kim, Savor the Success

Overcoming these distractions is one of the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs because you can usually make a case that the new idea is worth pursuing.

For example, a lot of Financial Planning firms got caught up in hype around auto enrolment. I remember having a coffee with one of the UK’s leading advisers and business owners. He said his business had been working on an auto enrolment project for nearly two years. Then their external non-exec (a senior executive from within the industry) asked at a board meeting: “When did we decide we’d do this type of work? We’re a financial planning business.”

Quite rightly, they dropped the project. In hindsight they could see it was a shiny thing. The logic seemed sound; get a whole bunch of corporate clients on board using auto enrolment as the hook and then do financial-planning related work for the senior people within the organisations. I’ve heard this line from dozens of firms.

The reality is that marketing, selling, implementing and managing auto-enrolment schemes means creating a whole new business (front and back office). It only looks the same on the surface. Bad idea.

Other clients I know have some Employee Benefits work still hanging around, but it’s no longer their core focus. They’ve transitioned into fully fledged financial planning firms long ago. For all of these firms it’s time to let the EB work go. This is another shiny thing.


What business are you in?

Decide on your answer to that question and then pursue that with all your focus and energy. Say no to the distractions that emerge under the guise of a new idea.

I realise this point of view is going to sound incredibly harsh and boring to many of you. Isn’t going after these new ideas why entrepreneurs innovate and create breakthroughs? Yes, but if the new idea is such a great idea then make it your core focus and ditch whatever you’re doing now. That’s a legitimate option.

Jose Supico, the founder of Advice Front, did exactly that when he gave up a role he loved, advising, and committed to his new passion: technology that could transform the way advisers service clients. (Disclosure, I’m an investor in Advice Front).

I’m not suggesting business creatives put themselves in a straightjacket. There is an incredibly fine line here between cutting off your creativity and chasing shiny things.


Innovation versus distraction – what’s the difference?

So, how do you manage that and stay on the right side of the line?

As an entrepreneur (or even as a creative individual) following your curiosity is a route to new ideas. This is the fun stuff of life and necessary for your business to keep innovating and evolving. Business owners are usually good at connecting the dots when they expose themselves to a wide range of ideas. There needs to be time in your week for exploring your curiosity.

However, you can’t pursue every new idea, especially if your core business is not done yet. Finish what you started, or resolve the sticking points that are keeping you from achieving your full potential. Then you can look at extensions, adjacencies, additional service lines and the like. But doing any of those things too early is merely a distraction.

If your core business is in good shape then be discerning regarding new ideas and choose the ones that really call you.

As Peter Diamandis, founder of the X-Prize says, you’ve got to “love what you do”. If it takes years to bring an idea to fruition then there’s going to be a lot of ups and downs and a lot of days where the only thing getting you out of bed is your love for the project; not the money, because there may not be very much for a long time during that journey.

This is why visionaries need integrators. Entrepreneurs need managers to take their ideas, filter out the crazy stuff and implement the good stuff. Without that, nothing gets achieved. The visionary is the idea generator, but the integrator complements that by making stuff actually happen and last. Left to our own devices we can create organisational whiplash, as the team look one way and then the other, from idea to idea.

Take a look at your current to-do list and see if you can identify any shiny things. If you need some help, share this article with the rest of your team. They’ll have no problem pointing out what’s real and what’s not for your business.

Get rid of the shiny things and stay focused on what you love and are good at.


Tweet: What business are you in? Answer that question and then pursue it with all your focus and energy. @brettdavidson

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