By M. Dana Baldwin

Why is focus so important to success in our businesses? We've all heard of the person who wanted to clean off his desk, and couldn't imagine why it wasn't done by the end of the day. When he began to think about what he had done, he listed the following: On his way to his office to clean off his desk, he noticed that the light in the back hall was on, so he went to turn it off. When he got to the back hall, he saw that the mail had not been opened, so he picked it up to open. After he opened the mail, he took the discarded envelopes to the trash and realized that the basket was full and should be emptied. As he took the basket out to empty, he saw the light bulb in the garage was out, so he put the basket down and searched for a new bulb. Etc., etc.... You can easily fill out the rest of the story.

What does this story tell us about focus? By not focusing on the specific goals he wanted to accomplish, our person really accomplished very little of what he set out to do. How, then, do companies lose their way? Unfortunately, it isn't all that hard. There are multiple opportunities for us to stray from our chosen path.

One example: A customer may call with a request which is close to, but not exactly a part of, what we do. This may be a product which is akin to our existing products, but which will require extensive re-design, development, testing and debugging. Or it may be a service which is similar to what we now offer, but which may require investing in new or different technology or training in order to be able to effectively perform.

In either case, two significant things have just happened. First: we have strayed outside the areas within which we are competent and competitive. Second: we may have to invest considerable time, people and money in products or services for which we are not yet skilled. The result of this deviation from our chosen path is that we may be expending considerable effort in directions which may or may not be the best path for us to follow for the optimal future of our company. These efforts may sap strengths and assets away from our core businesses.

How can we avoid these distractions while taking advantage of real opportunities which come our way? We need to have a process that reviews those opportunities which arise and are outside our current strategies, so they may be evaluated on a consistent basis for their appropriateness for our future. This process must result in a culture which supports the way we do business both by focusing on our strategies on which we base our business, and by allowing the introduction of new opportunities for our future into a controlled process which will rigorously evaluate each one for its total impact on the company's future.

Dana Baldwin is a Consultant with Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc. He can be reached via e-mail at

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