Avoid tunnel vision

In the 1980s, while I was a senior vice president at JH Collectibles, we were so focused on producing fashion sportswear for the misses market we missed the emerging “women’s” size market.

By the time we began to produce the larger sizes, our competitors were already firmly established in that segment of the retail market.

While working with many local entrepreneurs, I noticed that many of them share the same challenge: not to succumb to tunnel vision. I identified this aspect of an entrepreneur’s approach to business as “entrepreneurial myopia.”

We all know that developing a sense of mastery in an area or skill feels good. It can develop into a phenomenal business asset, leading to the creation of ideas, solutions and products. But there’s often a problem, when applied to the business of doing business. It can sharply reduce an entrepreneur’s potential for success.

While during my research I found an author who stated there’s another challenge in spending all your time in this deep and narrow land. You become so hyper-focused on your tiny slice of the world that your depth of field begins to narrow. You lose objectivity and start to view what you’re doing as the only way something can be done, solved or expressed. This behavior is demonstrated by becoming the champion of your idea, your solution and your craft while viewing it as the only reasonable way to solve a problem. You begin to discount all other approaches because you’ve become wed to the need to bring this thing that’s become everything to you to the world.

The problem is, when you’re on the inside looking out, you’re in the worst possible place to know which end of the spectrum you’re working on. The moment you bring money into the equation, narrow and deep isn’t enough, you need to apply your efforts in a way that is aligned with the wants and needs of those you’re creating for. Countless ventures have failed because they were a little of this and a little of that but never became the vendor of choice for any given customer segment.

For example, entrepreneur Jayesh Parekh could have said, “Sorry, I’m running another venture right now and I would lose focus if I became involved in something else,” in 1994 when asked to join the venture that grew into Sony Entertainment Television. That would have been a perfectly reasonable response, but that would have cost him the opportunity of a lifetime. His willingness to explore, to step outside his zone of comfort and tackle an uncertain but promising prospect, is just as much the hallmark of an entrepreneur as is keeping the main thing the main thing.

How can entrepreneurs reconcile the need to stay focused with the need to be open to life’s unexpected breaks? We need to distinguish between three different types of focus: in what we experience, how we decide what to do and how we pursue our goals. A lack of focus in our experiences, combined with laser-like focus in how we choose and controlled focus as we pursue our goals will give us the right balance between chaos and myopia.

An absolute focus is required when deciding how you are going to evaluate the many opportunities you uncover.

  • First, you have to know what you love to do, what you do well because you truly enjoy it.
  • Second, you have to know when and how you bring value to other people. The two partners who asked Jay Parekh to help them didn’t need a television industry expert. They needed someone who exuded professionalism, who walked and talked like an IBM veteran. Usually, people don’t help you just because they like you, they help you because they value ways in which you have helped them or can help them in the future.
  • Finally, decide how you can be of most value to others and hone the skills, knowhow and other resources that cause people to seek you out.

In order to maintain your focus, you need to ask the following questions when the next opportunity comes along:

  • First, can I truly add value to those who would turn it into a business?
  • Then ask yourself, what will you stop doing in order to make time for it?

If you agree to take on something new, you must have the mental strength to drop something you are doing that has less value. Otherwise, you never devote enough time to any one thing to do it as well as necessary to succeed. When you divide up your resources among a number of opportunities, you will ultimately fail. As a successful entrepreneur, you need to employ a controlled focus as you pursue your goals. Often when you try to execute a plan, things work out but in a different way than you had planned.

A commitment to a focused execution means you will not be deflected from your ultimate goal. You need to be aware of what’s working and what’s not, and follow up vigorously when something succeeds unexpectedly. Rigidly pursuing just one path to your goal regardless of what you learn is not focus: it is the “tunnel vision” that leads to the myopia and you will miss opportunities when they present themselves. n

Cary Silverstein, MBA is the president and CEO of SMA LLC & The Negotiating Edge in Fox Point. He heads a group of consultants that provide services in the areas of strategic planning, negotiations, and conflict resolution. He can be reached at (414) 352-5140 or at Csilve1013@aol.com.

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