Promising Practices Promising PracticesPromising Practices
A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

Why Bill Gates and Warren Buffett Are So Successful, in One Word

ARCHIVES
Nati Harnik/AP

When Bill Gates first met Warren Buffett, their host at dinner, Gates’ mother, asked everyone around the table to identify what they believed was the single most important factor in their success through life. Gates and Buffett gave the same one-word answer: “Focus.” (See more in The Snowball by Alice Schroeder).

I love the clarity of their answer but I am also concerned by how this can be, to quote Rudyard Kipling, “twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools.” I am an advocate for focus in work, life and leadership. However, the subject has a nuance and depth that many people miss. For a start, most people think of there only being one kind of focus.

Focus as a noun

When people speak of focus they usually mean having a single goal. It is a static thing, a thing you have. This kind of focus conjures pictures of Roger Bannister relentlessly pursuing his goal of breaking the four-minute mile, John F. Kennedy challenging NASA to put a man on the moon within a decade or, coming back to Bill Gates, a vision of a personal computer on every desk. The upside to this kind of focus is clear and compelling: you pursue a single objective and don’t get distracted along the way; you build momentum as many different people aligned behind achieving this one goal.

However, there is a dark side to focus as a noun. It’s what we might think of as the Kodak Problem. Kodak was relentlessly focused on a single objective—and it almost killed them. They found themselves caught off guard by the disruptive innovation of digital cameras. Kodak was so focused on optimizing for traditional film capture and processing that they did not see or accept the transformation in their industry. This is where the second type of focus comes in.

Focus as a verb

Focus is not just something you have it is also something you do. This type of focus is not static; it is an intense, dynamic, ongoing, iterative process. This kind of focus conjures pictures of Steve Jobs saying to Jony Ive day after day, “This might be crazy, but what if we…” until once in a while the idea took the air out of the room. It’s the constant exploration needed to see what is really going on and what the “noun focus” should be.

Imagine if the moment you woke up this morning your eyes focused one time and then never adjusted again. You would be out of focus all day. Our eyes produce clarity through a perpetual process of adjustment. Similarly, in our lives and on our teams, it is not enough to say, “We have our focus!” Rather, and adapting Dwight D. Eisenhower statement, “Focus is nothing, focusing is everything.” That may take the point too far, but it still makes the point that having a focus is insufficient.

Read more at Quartz

FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    Download
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    Download
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

    Download
  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

    Download
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    Download
  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.