Balancing the productivity of focus and the excitement of unfocus


I have a problem. I find it extraordinarily difficult to be focused.

The delight and enticement of all the possibilities of a rapidly evolving world are irresistible to me.

Pushing back at the startup mantra of focus

Having spent many years ensconced in startup communities I have heard over and over again the mantra of Focus Focus Focus.

I always pushed back at this, at one time considering writing a book titled ‘Unfocus’ to help balance out the conversation.

In many ways I don’t believe in focus. Certainly the only way I can do my job of futurist properly is to be all over the place, pushing out in different directions and following intriguing ideas.

Also I simply lack the attention span; I couldn’t spend all of my time and energy on a single endeavor.

The lure of parallel entrepreneurship

For a couple of decades now I have been strongly attracted to the idea ‘parallel entrepreneurship‘: building multiple ventures simultaneously rather than one after another as is the case for serial entrepreneurs.

In more recent years ‘company builder‘ has become a more common description for the model. I have spent some time delving into the enablers of the company builder model (more on that another time), and how the intrinsic lack of focus at the group level can be addressed.

The perils of lack of focus

The business model for Advanced Human Technologies Group was explicitly as a company builder, with multiple scalable ventures funded by cashflow from our (non-scalable or partially scalable) services businesses, and the underlying premise relying almost exclusively on globally distributed part-time talent to enable full scalability.

I always acknowledged that it was an extremely ambitious model, but I thought that it was possible and it was an undertaking worth trying, in demonstrating the viability of a highly non-traditional organizational structure.

In short I effectively failed. The group grew to five companies, yet I was still spending half my time working globally as a futurist, with the remaining 50% of my time split across a dozen ambitious projects across these companies. A couple of our ventures succeeded on a small scale, but my attention and our resources were divided too thinly for the rest to get traction.

Pushing the model further

Given this situation I accepted an offer to become co-founder of a new future-focused agency and ventures group Rh7thm, drawing on its significant capital and broader resources.

The key challenge for me was that in my role of ‘CEO and Chief Futurist’ of a growing group of companies I was effectively in the same position that I had been before, stretched too thin and unable to do either of those roles properly.

Back to the future

After spending over a decade as a ‘futurist and entrepreneur’, with many lessons learned from both of those domains and their intersection, I decided that I needed to be more focused, and left the group to concentrate fully on my work as a futurist.

As has been reported on my move I noted that:

“The reason for this shift is that for too long now I have split my time between my futurist and entrepreneur roles.

“While I will never be able to hold myself back for too long from entrepreneurial ventures, I have not enjoyed having more on my plate than is possible to do.

“I deeply love working as a futurist – it is my truest calling – and for now I want to focus on that rather than trying to run multiple ventures simultaneously.”

Focusing on the future

I am now more focused than I have been for well over a decade, putting all my energy into my role as a futurist, including working globally as a keynote speaker and strategy facilitator and creating future-focused content and insights for major organizations.

Our future-focused publications are doing well, so I still have some scalable ventures running, but all within the futurist fold.

This focus on my work as a futurist of course can hardly be described as overly narrow. Exploring the future requires an unlimited purview. Which is why it suits me perfectly – I can be focused, certainly relative to the last decade of my life, without feeling constrained.

Searching for the balance between focus and unfocus

Today I acknowledge more than before the importance of focus. It is almost certainly the heart of growing a successful business from scratch.

Yet I certainly don’t envy those who have an overly tight focus for years – and often more years – on end. Life is an adventure, and you need not only to look around, but also to delve sometimes in different directions.

For each individual that balance between focus and unfocus will be different, and will change over time. For me I will always be drawn to broader vistas.

For now I am completely focused on the future. But I know I won’t be able to keep myself away from other ventures indefinitely.

Being conscious about how focused you choose to be

What is most important is to be conscious about what you gain and lose through your degree of focus. There are choices to be made, so choose well how focused or unfocused you should be at this stage of your unfolding career and life.

Image: HiggySTFC