Focus, Focus and Focus produces results


Focus looks hard at one thing. 

Focus is specific not vague and that’s the source of its power.

Focus exposes the details at levels necessary to cognition…makes the object or task known. 

In life, many of us are just not detail focused.  We often like to think we know what we need to do but then we find ourselves easily distracted, sometimes even productively so.  This is not a time management problem per se, but it may very well be an attitude challenge. 

Put yourself into the picture

Left to my own inclinations, the tasks that I consistently do complete are habitual, routine.   But these tasks also occupy my comfort zone, prove reassuring and support my sense of what’s important and even maintain my basic level of confidence.  I accomplish less when I avoid loosely defined tasks that require more confidence or raise doubts about my ability. These feelings create unnecessary fear that focus can disspell.  Breaking a less appealing task into small doable steps makes completion easy as long as I specify my role  and focus on the actions necessary to the step.  The level of specificity required will be clear when the unconscious fears disappear and gives way to progress. 

To do lists sound great, but to get them finished, make them specific. If an outside observer can recognize its completion, chances are that the steps you need to take are sufficiently detailed.  If not, add more steps.  If you make a habit of detailing the steps in your to do lists, you’ll be surprised by how much more you accomplish.  Focus on details to get to larger tasks. 

Want to help a Job seeker?  Help unravel their to do lists with more specific steps than the usual: Find listings, network, write resume. 

None of these items detail how its going to happen and the absence of focus limits progress. Offer to help them createe a system for checking listings, or track their contacts or break their resume into a more flexible matrix, that makes it easier for them to generate a resume that matches employers special needs.  Help them break down the steps.

When we know what’s expected than it’s easier to make it happen.  Lists aren’t a bad way to  start the day, but it may be better still to itemize and yes plan it. 

Do you take a moment at the start or end of your day to regroup, look at what you have accomplished and then set your intentions clearly? Try it.   

Armed with a detailed list, helps you value your time, honor your intentions.  With every completed step, you’ll have more energy, get closer to realizing your goals which leads to feeling better about yourself. 

This same  inertia plays out at the organizational level with equally predictable results. Less detail, less progress, or detail at one level and no connection to the larger goal.

Strategic planning sessions typically get teams to think hard about their mission, and what they expect to accomplish. The Plan identifies focus areas but rarely includes the details sufficient to recognize progress toward completion over time.  If the focus is all about the effort and not on the benefits, the results desired  become harder to achieve.   Great lengths may be spent on estimating the resources and timetables with little effort spent on breaking the tasks into measurable accomplishments that connect to the larger goal.

Strategic planning is an art, but with focus, focus and focus great things happen!


Prediction and Understanding

All things “new” fascinate us.  Of late,  the business world’s growing excitement about Big Data and its analytic modeling seems to turn up surprising results in interesting places. Predictions mesmerize us, they offer us control in the midst of uncertainty and fool us to believe we understand things more completely than is possible.  The models used to predict an outcome are often confused with underlying mechanisms responsible for the outcome.  Models fuel discovery and yet we get cocky when we rely wholeheartedly on a built model’s power and accuracy.  Risk doesn’t disappear and its infrequent appearance merely challenges our ability to prepare adequately and only in hindsight differentiate the early warning signs.  This is what int he trade we call differentiating signal from the noise and is the focus of Nate Silver’s book.

Power to Predict

In finance, or physics circles the fascination around models is anything but new. Isn’t the primary purpose of analysis and model building discovery or greater understanding of causal relationships and interactions? Observing physical properties of planets helps us make sense of their movements and  explain other observable phenomenon. The notation and models provide insights into other activities and data collected in other settings.  These scientific modeling techniques when introduced into social science formed the basis of understanding economic behavior and a framework for a series of policies governing the money supply to welfare.  Once operating in obscurity, the mathematically trained analysts and modelers impact on society continues to ripple into ever-widening arenas difficult to miss.

Michael Lewis earned his living as a quant on Wall Street. His dual talents manipulating numbers and words led to his successful book Liar’s Poker.  Complexity found a voice and Lewis continued to seek out and tell more stories about the quants in multiple settings. Perhaps it was the popular success of MoneyBall, that attracted the popular interest. I admit I’m an ardent fan.  Michael Lewis and his wonderful story telling ability around number problems, shared how the Oakland As made the playoffs using statistics for competitive advantage. Among the collected stats, the story revealed those overlooked by scouts the Oakland As valued, making it possible for them to compete effectively against baseball teams with much larger budgets.

In Presidential Elections, during 2008 the baseball stats model maven Nate Silver demonstrated how a command of statistics can improve the quality of a candidate’s campaign.  By 2012, his success garnered him personal attention as author of the New York Times 538 column while further upping the fascination with applied statistics in new arenas.

Leonard Mlodinow,  a trained physicist himself, in his sympathetic review of Silver’s new book, shares his frustration with statistical shysters.  “The Signal and the Noise,” Silver shares “… studies show[ing] that from the stock pickers on Wall Street to the political pundits on our news channels, predictions offered with great certainty and voluminous justification prove, when evaluated later, to have had no predictive power at all.”

Quality Thinking

Andrew Hacker’s review of Silver in The New York Review of Books caught my attention when he questions James Weatherall’s intention as author of The Physics of Wall Street and  exposing a different expectation.

“…the assumption that the quality of our thought can be enhanced by new methodologies.”

Certainly, Hacker’s impressive eloquence helps; but invoking quality in reference to thoughts struck a visceral chord.  Variety and range implied by differences in quality intrigue us.  They make the world more interesting.  At the most basic level, variety compels trade  and incites desire for around diversity.  Frequently, recombining ideas defines innovation but does either necessarily signify progress, reflect higher power thinking,  or even spread benefits more widely?

Variety in objects or tangible goods naturally reach their limits and so too does our tolerance for diverse ideas.  In products, declining sales makes the limit recognizable in hindsight.  In ideas, their displacement provides some evidence of their limited appeal as in the transition to capitalism in the communist bloc or the return of Islāmic fundamentalism in the middle east.

Does a valued quality suggest our preference associates with a higher ranking of an object or an idea? Naturally, higher ranking or rating indicates higher preference, especially when done consistently. For example, measuring liquid in litres vs. quarts does not enhance or detract from the quality of the liquid, the measure and the liquid’s qualities are independent of one another.  In the US, quarts are the culturally preferred volume measure and it persists for numerous reasons, some irrational, but few suggest higher power thinking.

Of late, I am reading Scott E. Page’s book entitled The Difference.  He provides a series of examples to  show the  added value produced when multiple perspectives and varying rule based approaches test a situation.  Page’s training draws on the work of social scientists in multiple disciplines and his examples, by design demand minimal mental arithmetic and can easily be scaled.  His fundamental premise challenges  higher order thinking as the ultimate value varying diversity, flexibility and adaptability as ultimately more useful.

Then again, utility or use as an idea in spite of its competitors continues to prove itself resilient over time and earthly situations.  I’m OK with some mystery, the unknowns that both Nate Silver finds challenging and James Weatherall believes his approach can resolve.  Big data regardless of the  measurement methods, analysis models and their possible recombination, I’m betting that diverse human preferences for truth will continue to prove self-limiting.  That’s what ultimately makes life and all its diversity interesting!