Focus Focus Focus

There are lots of different opinions about how to be successful. Take a walk through the self-help section of Borders Barnes and Noble. Tony Schwartz, of The Energy Project, believes you should manage your energy. Dan and Chip Heath think you should learn what’s Made to Stick, and gain influence by telling stories. Peter Guber is right there with them, and thinks you should Tell to Win. Barry Schwartz believes that by learning how to decide and overcome The Paradox of Choice, we will be more effective and happier. Keith Ferrazzi is a networker and thinks you should Never Eat Alone. Don’t forget Seth Godin, who wants you to be an indispensable Linchpin. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi believes that through the experience of Flow, you will be more productive and happier.

I believe all of them.

I was introduced to a new idea while reading Now, Discover Your Strengths, by Marcus Buckingham. He suggested that the way to truly differentiate yourself was not to spend time and energy improving your weakness, but to find your biggest strengths and improve them even further. Tim Ferriss echoes this idea in The 4-Hour Workweek.

This came as a paradigm shift for me. I’ve always believed that I should improve myself by fixing my weaknesses. This new suggestion, to get my weaknesses to a tolerable level and put the bulk of my energy into my strengths, is new and somewhat refreshing.

It takes more energy to go from bad to average than it does to go from good to incredible.

As I think about all the different frameworks that exist to be successful in life, I get the impression that they all work. An idea I’ve toyed with is reading only one book, over and over again, for 6 months. Instead of flying through a wide breadth of materials, focusing on one and greatly increasing my depth.

The problem is that I like breadth. I love reading new ideas and new concepts. As I go, I assimilate many of them into my lifestyle and thought process. But breadth is no longer in vogue. Don’t be a Renaissance Man. Instead, be a specialist. Today’s glory is found in knowing more and more about less and less. Focus focus focus.

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  • Tim October 26, 2011 at 8:40 am

    I’m wondering about this statement: “It takes more energy to go from bad to average than it does to go from good to incredible.”

    I kinda think that in my life there are decreasing returns to investment in a particular skill or activity. So, as I get better and better at something, it requires a larger investment to get to the next level. On the other hand, if the skill requires a large fixed cost, like say, learning a new programming language, then it would take a lot of work to go from bad to average. However, it would still take a lot of work to go from good to incredible. Maybe the optimal strategy is to focus on ALL of the areas where you’ve already internalized the large fixed cost and get them to the point where the returns to the investment are no longer worth the effort the investment requires. For example, I should keep my spanish up, improve my programming skills, and perfect my pizza and bagel cooking instead of learning a new language, taking on a new hobby, or furthering my deeper but increasingly costly understanding of econometrics…

  • Brooke October 26, 2011 at 9:45 am

    Maybe your strength is having a breadth of knowledge. I agree with Tim that perhaps taking up a new hobby or reading a new genre of books would not be an investment for you, however having a broad range of skills that are average can help you connect ideas and provide you with an asset that most people don’t have. You are a go-to guy for knowledge and when it gets really complex you know the right specialist after that. Yet it’s good to focus as well. Interesting post!

  • Ryan Murri October 26, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    Tim, maybe your skill is eating pizza and bagels instead of cooking them and you should focus on that 🙂

    Derek, you contradict yourself. Your premis is that you should focus on your strengths, but then you give an example at the end where you consider switching from your strength of reading breadth and assimilating ideas (which I know for a fact is your strength) to focus, focus, focus on knowing more and more about less and less. I was left confused.

    Brooke you’re perfect.

  • Austin November 21, 2011 at 11:46 am

    Don’t focus on your weaknesses or your strengths. Focus on needs and what will make you successful.