Victus Spiritus


Sun in your eyes

06 Jul 2011

Too focused

For a guy who's attention drifts like a summer breeze, I had thought it impossible to be too focused. But I was wrong. While strolling in the southern outskirts of Tucson's desert this morning and quietly listening to the chorus of birds and crickets, I could clearly see the drawbacks of getting lost in the details.

The idea for this morning's riff was born in a place far from the quiet desert dawn, in the chaotic realm of startups. The concept coalesced as a pattern between technical founders and naive business plans, which I admit to observing in my own startup thinking. The recognition was triggered by Patrick McKenzie's well thought and articulated analysis of customer acquisition channels. Fellow Hacker News regulars might recognize Mr. McKenzie's handle there, he's patio11. Here's an excerpt from Patrick's post which describes the naivete of technical founders when it comes to business strategy:

Taking A Hack From Tactic To Strategy
I think this isn’t exactly a new insight. There are lots of folks who, when asked for their marketing plan, will say “Oh, we’re going to get lots of search traffic” (indeed, that is probably second only to “it will grow virally” in terms of signaling “has probably not thought this through.”) What separates hopes and dreams of future success from very valuable businesses is a strategy which, with execution and refinement over time, will actually achieve the goals.

We often hear products described using something like “It’s like Facebook, except for dogs.” How about, instead, describing businesses like “It’s like Quicken, except Quicken sells primarily through boxed software channels and we’re going to sell primarily through banks which will deal with us for a cut of the sale price and the ability to deepen relations with small business customers, who consume lots of high margin services and stay locked in for decades at at time.” (That may or may not actually be true.)

We often accept previous experience or minimal proof-of-concept prototypes/MVPs in lieu of a functioning product when evaluating whether someone is capable of executing on building something. Why not do essentially the same for proving that one is likely to get customers? A previous background in revenue maximization through negotiating cross selling deals for banks, or evidence that you have enthusiasm from a few bankers who like the concept and want to hear more when you have something to show, demonstrates a certain likelihood that marketing challenges will be overcome like technical challenges will be overcome.

Similarly, for a startup hoping to make inroads for SEO, I’d be thinking less along the lines of “we’ll sprinkle some SEO on our website” and more along the lines of specific plans for scalable content generation, securing backlinks at scale, and winning the support of influencers either in the niche or in other addressable niches which your competition may not be aware are relevant to that facet of their business.

My take on this: as one's perception bends more heavily towards technology, they are apt to see every problem solved by a technical solution. After reading that passage I shared feedback on the importance of learning from experimentation and discovering a signal of success, then left to go out on a walk wondering where my search for a MVP would take me.

By and large I'm thankful to have streaks of hyper focus where I get a lot of work done in a short period of time, but this extreme form of productivity comes at a cost.

It is eerie how concentration steals away moments. Time flows endlessly while we are in the zone. The rest of the world fades into the background as all attention zeroes in on a single task. Concerns outside of the zone of concentration are inconsequential, the universe becomes a solipsist existence of action. We become blind to broader perspectives. Tunnel vision leads to trivial solutions falling just outside the horizon of our perception.

Instead of focusing too tightly on a single task, a more stable and effective approach is to drift one's attention about focus points. The pattern of that lens motion is a function of the observer's expertise and style. By nutating our perception and balancing our understanding, we increase the likelihood of recognizing resilient multidisciplinary approaches.