Focus and Simplicity

“Mastery comes from a monomaniacal focus on simplicity vs. an addiction to complexity” – Robin Sharma

“What you stay focused on will grow” – Roy Bennett

I have always been a student of success in business and have long admired those who are able to achieve profitable growth even in the most difficult of times. Many of my past leadership messages have spoken about the importance of culture in driving this success. So too have I written about attitude, an important element of culture. But today I want to discuss the value of focus and simplicity as two of the most important elements of success in business.

Over the last several months I have spent a considerable amount of time researching this topic. In addition to looking at the qualities that drive our most successful (and least successful) branch operations, I’ve also looked outside at some of the more successful companies in our industry. Believe me when I say this wasn’t a casual effort – I have mountains of data behind this. In the end this exercise has led me to one inevitable conclusion – teams that live and bleed focus and simplicity achieve disproportionate growth, have higher staff engagement/satisfaction levels, and provide better service for their customers.

That’s not to say that all these businesses are built the same. Each is true to their own cultural framework, and their processes often differ significantly. But they all have the same underlying obsession with these two elements. And I think it’s worth discussing each in detail.

First, these teams/businesses operate with a clear focus:

Focus on their purpose – Why they exist. They believe deeply in that purpose and live true to it every day
Focus on their offering – Clear & compelling. They know exactly what they can sell/deliver. And they make it more than a priority – it’s an absolute. They don’t waiver from that core nor are they apologetic when they say no things outside that.
Focus on their expectations – The team operates with clarity on expectations down to an individual level. And what’s funny, the team members don’t view this as micro-management, rather they view it as a framework to their own success.
Focus on their results – Along with that clarity of expectations they drive a culture of results.

Second, these teams/businesses operate with simplicity:

Simplicity in their model – Their model isn’t over-engineered. It is simple and straight forward. Each member knows their responsibilities to both themselves and their fellow team, owning their role.
Simplicity in their processes – They all follow a simple, clear process for success. And they don’t waiver from that process, no matter how tempting it might be. They trust and believe it will work, and as a result it does.
Simplicity in their measures – They measure their efforts religiously. And it isn’t an encyclopedia of metrics, but a limited set of impactful measures that are clearly aligned to success.

Put differently, they say “NO” as often as they say “YES”, because they are clear on their purpose, capabilities, expectations, and limitations.

I find it amazing with all of the research on team and business strategies that the highest correlation to success would come down to these two measures. That’s not to say that the strategic frameworks published by Michael Porter, or the leadership books from Peter Drucker or Jim Collins, or the numerous research papers published by Harvard Business Review aren’t useful. They are. But in the end, they can only impact success when two fundamental tenants are in place – Focus and Simplicity.

But don’t take my words for it – take it from someone known for amazing achievements in business:

“That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” – Steve Jobs

One thought on “Focus and Simplicity

  1. Love this one, Kip.

    I’m reminded of a famous quote attributed to many sources, including Franklin, Thoreau, and Pascal…”If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”

    It is incredibly easy to create complexity in our lives, at both work and home. As needs arise, we simply accommodate them, which leads to fragmented, inefficient processes. It does take a focused mind to bring about simplicity. Only when you can distill your goals down to a single, clearly defined purpose can you start to identify extraneous elements of your process (or letter) and remove them.

    While creating simplicity may be difficult, it is incredibly rewarding. Imagine a day filled with conscious, decisive action rather than anxiety or indecision. Systems that work seamlessly because they are designed with simplicity. A series of complex thoughts distilled down to a beautifully written paragraph. The results are absolutely worth the effort.


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