Focus is the buzz word of all start ups and not a whole lot are getting it right (see my article on Founder Fever). It’s what makes a good start up a great one. It’s what makes the difference between “one of those” and THE ONE. But now let’s assume you’re among the few getting focus right technically: What do you focus on? Doing things right but now doing the right thing.
Imagine that you had had a glimpse into the future and remembered in rough brush strokes what it looked like. Would it be a lot easier for you as a company to come up with a path to follow in order to get there? Would your priorities not become natural to you? Your focus would just exist?
When the future is known, the path to get there it is a lot easier. The priorities become clear and what not to do is obvious. The company can zoom in on the future, differentiate between important and marginal. Discussions are more about how than what. Resources find their way toward best allocation and an energetic movement in the company sets in. The whole company is aligned and marches in one direction and becomes a juggernaut.
Now how do you get to that glimpse in the future?
You invent it!
Actually, you already have. It’s the reason why your company exists in the first place. You deep down unconsciously or very consciously must have had an image, an idea rough or precise of what it is that you intended to build when you started your company.
Write a future statement for your company: not a vision statement, but a description. Other than business school literature teaches you, make it a literary exercise.
Be as precise as you can – what does it feel like, how is it like – and time frame as much as you can (year, month). Quantify where you can (revenue, market share, growth) and paint it vividly. Make it your desired future. Make it something you want, desire…hell you crave for it and get goose bumps if only it became true. Make it not so much what you could achieve with your current state of the company. Rid yourself of present day constraints. It’s your (!) future. Make it a literary piece of art.
Include your customer insights on their pain (perceived or subconscious) and what solution you deliver (customer relief). This has as much personal conviction to it where it lacks hard data.
Now it is quite useless to read, agree and then not follow up on an article like this. So I genuinely urge you to do this exercise immediately after reading it and force yourself to finish it in less than 10 minutes. Don’t make it more complicated than it is.
Examples of future statements:
I provide a few examples of three stages in history of future statements.
A very famous example is the visionary essay “As we may think” from Vannevar Bush. In it he described a future not so different from our’s today more than 60 years ago and inspired generations of computer scientists to deliver on his future statement.
When Steve Jobs famously “had found” the prototype for a graphical user interface at Xerox PARC he foresaw a future very clear to him – not that subsequent execution in this case got that much easier for that matter.
An example of a present day statement: Elon Musk recently published his second part of a vision he intends to realize. See how clearly he paints the future and how clear the focus for his company is. This statement is not to say that achieving it is going to be easy but without something alike you see big auto makers struggle to focus on a distinct chosen path. Just imagine a big corporate auto maker would commit its vast resources to a future statement, zoom in on the future and become a gigantic juggernaut. Now that seems to me as a very frightening idea of a competitor.
Doing things right is one thing, doing the right things is a different. Make no mistake: This is the founder’s job. I like democratic leadership but this is too important to be subject to consensus. It’s your company, it’s your vision. Don’t unload it on employees.
Invent a future and then have your company build it: Focus will be natural.