Richard Branson, for example, can hardly be credited with being an intensely focused entrepreneur, having started out in Christmas tree sales, then magazines, followed by the record industry, nightclubs, films, publishing, video games, hot air balloons, condom manufacturing, book publishing, radio, personal financial services, cosmetics, clothing and most recently, space travel…and, by the way, this is not a comprehensive list!
Elon Musk, of Tesla fame, has dabbled in everything from video games, to software, to an online payments company, to space launch vehicles.
Other famous billionaire entrepreneurs with similar track records include Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Sheldon Adelson, owner of the Los Vegas Sands Corporation, and Eric Lefkovsky, co-founder and CEO of Groupon.
There are 1426 billionaires in the world. Of this number, 960 can be defined as self-made. Less than 14% of these self-made billionaires achieved their wealth from a single business idea, meaning that more than 85% had been involved in multiple businesses. This suggests that focus places you in a 7:1 disadvantaged position.
Lose the Blinders
No one is suggesting that focus is not a trait worth cultivating. The point here is that an excess of focus is tantamount to leaving chips on the table. This empirical evidence may be interpreted to mean that too intense a focus is the equivalent of going through life with blinders—seeing only that which is directly in your path and oblivious to other stimulating resources, experiences, and ideas that lie on either side. In short, lose the blinders or you may lose the race.
While it is true that we attribute entrepreneurial success to the acute ability to focus, focus can also act as a counterpoint. These are the horns of the dilemma; focus versus vision is how I define it. All things in moderation may be the truest key to genuine success.
Take a Cue from the Kids
Studies support the notion that play collaborates with other factors to support a child’s development. If we accept this hypothesis, it isn’t a huge stretch to associate adult play with adult development as well. So, what is adult play? In short, it is the polar opposite of focus.
It is that most elusive of concepts; it is the work/life balance, achieved by removing the blinders alluded to earlier and drinking in the learning experiences that result from allowing the mind to wander; abandoning focus, from time to time, and pursuing varied interests. Just as our children benefit from play, so can the focused entrepreneur; pushing the limits of imagination to foster greater creativity.
Break that focus! Take on that Spanish language course, waste an hour or two on StumbleUpon, or read that novel you’ve set aside for so long. Adult play is defined by doing something (aside from your work) that you enjoy doing. The byproducts of these activities can be amazing and valuable in terms of business success.
This so-called adult play can lead to discoveries that can be applied to your business; new ways of doing things and thinking from a different paradigm can inspire in new, unanticipated directions. Studies suggest it can enhance neural connections in the brain, making your mental processes more acute in much the same way that exercise tones the body’s muscles.
That Spanish language course, for example, forces the brain to break from what has become routine. It offers the mind a new challenge. As a result, your brain is energized and more efficient when you return to work mode. Throwing your brain a curve ball from time to time actually serves to recharge it!
A constant focus on core tasks and goals can have the same effect on the brain that repeated physical tasks have on the body’s muscles. You know it as “muscle memory”. That is a positive thing for a boxer, pro-golfer or tennis player, but absolutely deadly to the entrepreneurial spirit of innovation. If your brain is beginning to respond to stimuli in the same way an athlete’s muscles respond to a jab, a golf swing or a serve…you have a problem!
Focus must be tempered with distraction for an entrepreneur (or anyone for that matter) to achieve his fullest potential. Constant focus can paralyze the brain’s ability to innovate. Success comes to those who, by inclination or by design, have the ability to play.
Put the odds in your favor by losing that much touted focus once in a while. You’ll be the better for it!