'Focus' Management is the art of utilising limited resources to optimise value creation.
A manager can't do everything, at least not all at once. It is foolhardy to even hope for such a feat. The very scope of a manager and that of the discipline of management lies in the finitude of resources. The paucity of opportunities underpins the very requirement of a manager to reorganise the available resources and means so as to best utilise them to meet the set objectives.
Managerial roles are derived from the organisation's need for optimisation under constraints. That's where focus comes in. The best manager knows to get everything done enough rather than try to do everything to the fullest and fall short on all fronts.
Getting various parameters to their respective levels of adequacy so as to maximise value is essential for a business leader. It is thus of utmost importance to have some degree of prioritisation among goals in order to sustain them in practice. Emphasising everything is emphasising nothing – the such emphasis is self-defeating.
It's easy to focus on mistaking a means for the end, focusing on the path instead of the destination. Sticking to the objective instrument instead of the more abstract purpose it serves is a common reason for the downfall of ventures big and small.
Smart managers can get a better grasp of focus from examples around us.
Understanding focus through sports
It is easy for one's focus to shift from the purpose and gravitate toward indicators or parameters used to represent it. There, maximisation of such indicators is mistaken for maximising the fulfilment of the goal, per se.
This is evident in lawn tennis, where a player would prefer to distribute their efforts equally across all sets rather than go all-out in the first set itself. Consider a player who exerts a superlative effort from the beginning of the match itself, putting up a spectacle of an inaugural set, and thus exhausts herself early.
She wins 14 games in total and yet loses 6-0, 4-6, 4-6. Consider her performance vis-a-vis her victorious opponent, who only won a total of 12 games in the same match. When an abstract and complex concept as 'value' or 'quality' is defined and perceived by ratings, many entities channel their endeavours towards enhancing their ratings (often via malpractices like paid ratings or bot ratings) rather than their quality. Raising their quality directly, of course, would have automatically elevated their ratings in the long term.
Let's again borrow some illustrations from the world of sports.
Sprinting is definitely essential for being a good football player, and up to a certain threshold, improvement in running ability is positively correlated with improvement in overall performance. The fact that the average football player is, on average, a significantly better sprinter than an average person doesn't mean that maximising sprinting prowess would translate to maximal performance on the football field. Of course, in spite of his enthusiastic stint at the game, the greatest sprinter Usain Bolt is not a great soccer player. If aspiring soccer player focuses on maxing out their sprinting prowess, they will deviate from their core goal, missing out on bringing the other key competencies like dribbling and shooting to their respective requisite levels.
The bodybuilders with the biggest biceps don't have the best forehand topspin in the world, nor does the Olympic high-jump record holder play in the NBA or deliver the meanest smash in badminton. Essential skills are requisite components, not end goals in themselves or even necessarily proportional to the end goals.
Being too general or being too specialised can prove to be one's undoing – a tennis player who focuses on developing their core competency – say, a strong backhand or robust baseline play achieves success and distinction, while one who focuses exclusively on mastering a particular variant of the forehand topspin would likely never make it to the big league. Similarly, another who devotes equal time to practising lawn tennis, squash, table tennis, and badminton, striving to become a professional in all of them, would never make it through either.
'Focus' in the tech industry
Nokia, whose longtime slogan was 'Connecting People' lost sight of its own vision and purpose, envisioning itself as a 'cellphone maker' instead of a technology company. Its focus on its formulaic hardware and lack of investment of resources and efforts into developing competent software led to its downfall.
Despite being vanguards in digital imaging, the brand which once was a byword for photography, Kodak, shortsightedly focused on the implementation rather than the idea of photography, envisioning itself as a film-camera maker rather than an imaging solutions provider. This misplaced focus led to its decline.
It is the same reason that a number of oil and gas giants today are exploring solar and wind energy prospects as well, reimagining themselves broadly as Energy Companies rather than mere Fossil Fuel Companies. Anticipation of the future and accordant maintenance or shifting of focus is essential.
The Mozilla Firefox web browser witnessed phenomenal growth between 2005 to 2010 owing to its focus on innovation – devising new features and utilities for its users. When Google Chrome, a browser built by former Mozilla developers and borrowing heavily from the latter, started capturing the market owing to its lean, clean interface and ready integration on mobile devices, Mozilla visibly shifted its focus on emulating its competitor.
Thus began its ruin. Mozilla began trailing Chrome's steps and therefore began trailing in the ranks as well. It followed every move of its competitors, forgetting its core competencies. It started doing everything that Chrome did, only later, and worse, since many of Chrome's features made sense in only its integrated Android environment, where it came preinstalled and streamlined. It lost its originality and culture of innovation that had been the factor fuelling its growth.
Being too specific, being too general, and being misplaced in terms of one's priorities, strengths, and weaknesses are all examples of misfocussing. Consistency in the short term and Adaptability in the long term are complementary to each other. Following a fixed vision – a set of abstract ideals as a lodestar while being flexible in terms of the means and implements deployed is the core mantra for managerial success and the key to business sustenance.
Pitamber Kaushik is a columnist, writer and independent researcher. He is currently based out of XLRI Jamshedpur (Xavier School of Management), India.