Focus & Just Say No!

The recent death of Nancy Reagan caused me to reflect on three of her most famous words, “Just Say No”.  As any child of the 1980’s will remember, these were the words Nancy Reagan told us to remember in an effort to stem the drug epidemic sweeping the country. As I reflect back, however, the First Lady’s words may have taught us more than just how to grow up around the temptations of illegal drugs.

The other day, I was asked, “What is one simple concept that many teams, organizations, and businesses find the hardest to achieve?” I couldn’t help but blurt out, “Just say no!” In other words, an organization may have to say no to good ideas in order to stay focused on their true purpose and vision. This also may include saying no to potential clients or business partners when those relationships can cause you to stray from your original mission. I define this concept as focus, or that which allows an organization to concentrate on greatness within their area of specialty rather than mediocrity across a myriad of potential arenas.

Think of it this way. You own a company that is dedicated to building the best working and longest lasting toilets in the world. In fact, your tagline is “Flush with us and your plunger will rust”. (Come on, a little toilet humor never hurt.) Now, what if your team was being pressured by outside investors to add music to the flushing system in your next model. A customer could choose to have Mozart finish off “the experience”.  An interesting idea whose time is long overdue if you ask me, but what part of the best working and longest lasting toilet does this support? Would the added feature cause increased repair and breakage calls? The point is if you are focusing on the main mission of the product (it works every time), perhaps the company’s best course of action is to say “no” to this new feature. Not only does this eliminate potential problems that go against the mission, it also allows the team to focus on new technologies that actually improve reliability and simplicity.

Over the years, I have learned that great companies say no to a thousand different things before they find that one great “yes” that transforms a market. I believe this is a critical concept, but I also know it is much harder than it seems. This is especially true when dealing with entrepreneurs and startups. They have two forces going against them. The first is their desire to create new products and services by blurring or completely eliminating old ways of thinking. This, they perceive, takes an ability to not get too focused in any one area. The other force is the natural instinct to survive by trying to say “yes” to every customer or client that walks through the door.

I completely understand this struggle as I have dealt with it while building Think Space, a creative business meeting and retreat experience. There is a natural tendency to want to serve everyone, but I often ask myself, if I do serve everyone am I really serving anyone really well?  More to come on this in my next post: “Create with Focus & Dream without (The importance of blankets and telescopes)”.  For now, lets all remember the wise words of Mr. T, who was Nancy Reagan’s partner in the 1980’s drug campaign, and who eloquently said, “I pity the fool who doesn’t say no!”

Dave Seitz, cofounder of Think Space, where new ideas are born