To focus or not to focus…

09/08/2011 § 1 Comment

“The morning sea of silence broke into ripples of birdsongs; and the flowers were all merry by the roadside; and the wealth of gold was scattered through the rift of the clouds while we busily went on our way and paid no heed.” Rabindranath Tagore

It is bad to be distracted, isn’t it? Real leaders are focused, disciplined, single minded. Stopping to pay attention to peripherals can only slow us down, prevent us achieving our objectives.

This is absolutely true, but it is not the whole story. It assumes we know what our objectives are. Too often, we skip out or shorten the vital stage of identifying our objectives, a stage which needs the opposite of focus – it needs perspective. Too focused or single-minded an approach here can be very harmful. A proper process needs to bring in information from multiple perspectives, in all sorts of forms. Otherwise we make poor choices. Pursuing the wrong objectives in a focused way is worse than being unfocused.

For me, the failure of public and private organisations to find a proper perspective, and thus to work out their true objectives, is a major cause of their unhealthy behaviour. If tobacco and alcohol companies had proper perspective, would they really continue pushing for increased sales? If the department of education had proper perspective, would it continue trying to “manage” schools and teachers from above? I wish the tobacco companies would be a bit less focused, a bit less efficient at their marketing!

Excluding vital information from our field of perception inevitably leads, over time, to disconnection, dis-ease and dysfunctional behaviour. If we don’t stop and smell the roses sometime, we eventually lose our sense of smell and the roses all disappear.

I think about this as a head or heart dynamic (it could equally be seen as a male/female dynamic). The head seeks focus, the heart seeks perspective. Neither is right in all circumstances – they each take turns to lead.

We can use the head to help us distinguish between useful distractions (which might include exercise, lunch, a good holiday, reading poetry, watching TED videos) and less useful ones (my list includes shopping, most of what the TV and newspapers produce, reading e-mails, much of the time anyway….).  The heart can help us know when the time is right to allow ourselves to be distracted and when it is time to focus.

This can be seen in the evolution of this blog over the last 6 months, mirroring what has been going on for me. When I launched it, I decided to focus it on the connection between sustainability and business. However I soon found that it had a life of its own. I could have reined it in but my heart told me that the right thing to do was let it wander, to be distracted, just as I was being distracted.

This has been a very rich time for me, full of sharing and learning and adventure. I have watched lots of TED videos, read lots of poetry and had amazing conversations!  But I feel I have reached a turning point – a time when I need to start being more focused. Apart from anything else, my savings have run out and will no longer support my wanderings.

Thus I intend to focus my blog more, particularly exploring the area of dialogue which is something that I am more and more drawn to. I intend to create space for people to talk together.

So I might stop writing for a week or two while I focus….

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§ One Response to To focus or not to focus…

  • Finn Jackson says:

    “Single-loop learning” — learning better ways of reaching the objective.

    “Double-loop learning” — learning better ways of defining the objective.

    (My paraphrase.)

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