The Discipline of Focus

The sun is a powerful source of energy. Billions of kilowatts of light pour from this star at the center of our solar system. A laser is a weak source of energy, just a few meager watts, infinitesimal compared to the sun. But those few watts are focused, unlike the sun, in a very narrow stream of light.

Under the diffused rays of the sun’s light we lay on our beach towels and fall asleep, blocking its side effects with a bottle of lotion. Under the direct penetration of a laser beam, diamonds–one of the earth’s hardest substances–are cut into pieces and cancerous tumors are surgically removed.

Most companies approach the marketplace like the sun. They’re nice and warm and glowing, diffusing their finite resources an inch deep and a mile wide. As a result they never impact the marketplace in any meaningful way and struggle to generate significant revenue. Purpose-driven companies, however, do the just the opposite. They apply the discipline of focus to everything they do. Like a laser beam they channel their resources an inch wide and a mile deep, maximizing their impact in the marketplace and, ultimately, achieving spectacular success.

Three Essential Elements

Focus, the crystal clear definition of your organization’s central purpose, is found at the intersection of three lines: your company’s unique ability, your customer’s enabling condition, and your primary value proposition. Like the triangulation of a global positioning system that pinpoints a person’s exact location, these three lines pinpoint your precise place in the marketplace.

Unique ability is defined as that which your company is good at and that which you love to do. If you’re good at something, but don’t love doing it, you won’t have the passion or tenacity to persevere in a competitive market. If you love to do something but aren’t good at it, you won’t be able to compete as well. Think golf. It takes both, fully present, to succeed in business today.

The next element in finding your focus involves looking outside your organization to the needs of your customer. As with unique ability, there are two keys to uncovering your customer’s enabling condition. The first is answering the question, “Who are they?” And the second is knowing, “Why do they buy?”

First, we need to know who our customer is. Basic facts about age, gender, work habits, living conditions, and income levels must be as familiar to us as our own name. With the volumes of data available today, there’s no excuse for being in the dark on this information. But this is just a starting point. We must use that information to go deeper to the emotionally compelling reason that motivates them to purchase the products and services we provide. What do they need, desire, want, or demand from a business like ours? That’s their enabling condition.

The final piece of finding your focus is your value proposition. In other words, what happens when your company’s unique ability meets your customer’s enabling condition? What’s the fire that rages when sparks meet dry tinder? What results do you deliver?

Silent Night, Holy Night

I have very few memories of growing up as a kid, but this one’s vividly etched in my mind. It was Christmas Eve and I was four-years-old. We were gathered in the basement of our church singing Christmas carols by candlelight. For some inexplicable reason, I, a rambunctious four-year-old boy, was given a candle and a carol book. From the moment the wick was lit on that candle, I could think of nothing else that this: what would happen if the candle in my left hand touched the carol book in my right hand?

I pondered this dilemma throughout the service. As festivities came to a close, I realized I would lose my opportunity to answer that question. It was somewhere during the singing of Silent Night, Holy Night that I found out. When the candle in my left hand touched the carol book in my right hand, the dry paper burst into flames. I screamed at the top of my lungs and threw the flaming mess on the floor. My mom screamed as well, probably more in embarrassment than fear, and my dad jumped from his seat and stomped on the blaze in the middle of the room until it went out.

The flame that burns in your company is the unique ability you possess, the strengths you bring to the marketplace. When that unique ability meets the needs of your customers, their enabling condition, it’s like putting a candle to paper. There’s going to be a fire. But unlike on that Christmas Eve so many years ago, that fire will not result in the spanking of a lifetime. It will result, however, in significant revenue development and robust business growth.

That’s what discipline of focus can do for you.

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