11 July 2008

More on Focus - This stuff matters!

In response to my prior post, a friend and business colleague of mine - David Gibson, CEO of XOS in New York, sent me the following quoted excerpts from John Boe's web page. All of which drive home the focus idea.

"The quality of a person's life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor." Vince Lombardi

Walt Disney was arguably one of the most creative dreamers and determined men of the twentieth century. Walt understood the power of commitment and would frequently tell those around him, "When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionably."

The ancient Greek warriors were both feared and respected by their enemies. In battle, the Greeks established a well-deserved reputation for their unsurpassed bravery and unshakable commitment to victory. The key to their overwhelming success on the battlefield had far more to do with how the Greek commanders motivated the warriors than it did with issues of tactics or training. The Greeks were master motivators who understood how to use a 'dramatic demonstration' to infuse a spirit of commitment into the heart of every warrior. Once the warriors had been offloaded from their boats onto their enemy's shore, the Greek commanders would shout out their first order, "burn the boats!"

The sight of burning boats removed any notion of retreat from their hearts and any thoughts of surrender from their heads. Imagine the tremendous psychological impact on the soldiers as they watched their boats being set to the torch. As the boats turned to ash and slipped quietly out of sight into the water, each man understood there was no turning back and the only way home was through victory.

"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now." - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Entrepreneurs and investors who perpetuate multiple strategies in order to hedge their risks... It's time to burn your boats!

05 July 2008

Focus your attention

I often come across early stage ventures that are pursuing three or four different alternative products or strategies. When I inquire how they plan to win at several of these simultaneously, I get the same answers. We are pursuing multiple paths because we are not sure which one will be the winner. Or, Our investors are happy to have a portfolio of opportunities to reduce their risk. This causes me pause. On one hand, certainly in this early stage they are right, its difficult to pick a winner before their products are complete or the market has had a chance to vote. But, can they really afford to be pursuing multiple strategies?

Making tough decisions is always a difficult proposition. But not making them sets you up for much more certain failure. The word decide is made up of the Latin roots de- "off" + c├Ždere "to cut"as in cut off other alternatives.

What entrepreneurs and investors who allow the pursuit of multiple alternatives do not understand is that without cutting off several of their multiple alternatives they are giving management permission to fail. That's right permission to FAIL!

Human nature is such that if you have a "fall back" position, an alternative if your pursuit fails, then you tend not to take success to its limits. Somewhere in the back of the homo sapiens' mind, we keep the glimmer of a trap door alternative to failure. Contrast that with the very powerful survival instinct that each of us carries. In the face of utter failure, we are able to call upon super-human capabilities to make the impossible occur.

If you study enough start-up ventures that had everything to lose by failing, you find a long list of very successful entrepreneurs who accomplished the impossible. Again, contrast that with many corporate ventures where the person leading the charge had a cushy job to fall back upon if their intrapreneurial venture failed. Is it any surprise that entrepreneurs create many more important ventures than corporations who have many times their resources are able to create from within these large entities with gracious safety nets?

Entrepreneurs who are pursuing multiple paths take note. Cut off your alternatives and your chance of success will increase! And investors who advise their early stage management teams to retain a portfolio of opportunities should instead capture their portfolio safety from multiple investments rather than diluting the focus of any individual management team!