Friday, January 27, 2012

Focus Can Be Bad

In their book, Invisible Gorilla, Chris Chabris and Dan Simons highlight a real-life incident in which a policeman chasing a perpetrator failed to see and ran by his fellow cops aggressively assaulting an undercover cop. He was so focused on catching the real perpetrator that he didn't even see the action occurring in front of him as he ran.

Likewise, businesses can be so focused they miss the obvious trends. By now, we've heard lots of diagnoses of Kodak's problems and inherent blindness towards their own digital technology. There are smaller and simpler examples to be found too.

One clinic was so focused on increasing visits that it failed to realize it was losing market share when the average time between setting up the appointment and the scheduled day grew beyond 30 days. One manufacturer was focused on the customer's ship date that they ignored the fact that the real problem holding them back was a failure to adhere to production dates. A service provider is so focused on costs that they fail to capture revenue opportunities.

Focus is good because it can provide the impetus for organizational alignment and collaboration. But leave the blinders in the parking lot. As Chabris and Simons point out, most of the time we see what we expect to see. That can be bad for business. One way to avoid this is to have people on the staff who ask penetrating questions and challenge the status quo.

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