I meet a lot of folks who are starting new programs or nonprofits or businesses. They are excited, ambitious, and they want to do it all. This is a beautiful thing – it’s a sign of how free they are to imagine that they could do it all. It’s an appropriate state of mind at the beginning of a project. It provides the juice to get started.
But at some point, you have to focus. You have to chose what you will do and what you won’t do. And this is tough because you probably like the stuff that is on your “won’t do” list and you’ll have a hard time saying no to those things. But in order to focus and succeed, you must. Saying no to some things doesn’t mean that they have to go away forever. It just means that they are in storage for now.
There are lots of frameworks available to help you figure out what you will do and what you won’t when embarking on a new project. I like Roger Martin’s five cascading questions from his book “Playing to Win.” They are:
- What are our broad aspirations for our organization & the concrete goals against which we can measure our progress?
- Across the potential field available to us, where will we choose to play and not play?
- In our chosen place to play, how will we choose to win against the competitors there?
- What capabilities are necessary to build and maintain to win in our chosen manner?
- What management systems are necessary to operate to build and maintain the key capabilities?
These questions start in a broad space with lofty goals, then as you move down the list, they ask you to get more focused.
Here’s a little trick: this focusing should not be confused with rigidity. You still need fluidity. Because when you make decisions, they may not be the right ones at first. In fact, they probably won’t be. So you need to maintain enough fluidity and freedom to refocus your focus when you need to.
Freedom and Focus. It’s not a linear, “beginning, middle, end” situation. It’s more like a dance. Back and forth.