Hocus Pocus - the Magic of Focus

Pulled in Too Many Directions Signs Stress Anxiety

Back in the early part of my career I was a flying instructor with the Royal Navy.  As I progressed and became an advanced instructor, increasingly I worked with the borderline students.  Now flying an aircraft from a ship is a pretty demanding task.  The pace is fast and the amount of information to assimilate and act on in a short period of time can be overwhelming. (Does this sound familiar in today’s work place?)  What soon became clear to me was that successful aviators had 2 main traits – focus and control.

Can you focus on the highest priority tasks?
There is always too much to think about.  Success comes from filtering out the 80% of noise to focus on the 20% that is vital to the current context.

Are you in control?
Rarely is it possible to control our environment, but what we can control is how we react to it and avoid being panicked into actions that we later regret.  We will cover this topic in the next article.

As an Executive Coach in more recent times, I see how important these same 2 traits are in modern life.  As with my young aviators for some it comes naturally, but many are not so fortunate.  The good news is that learning to focus and to be in control is not that hard.

Yesterday I was working with a successful marketing executive who runs a small agency.  He was launching a new proposition, but somehow couldn’t quite articulate it in a really compelling way.  He had plenty of evidence to show benefit from his new service, but a succinct description was proving elusive.   I asked him to describe the benefits, which he did, but we both agreed that they were pretty generic and neither compelling nor differentiated.  We tried a different tack. 

“So imagine that I am your customer; what will I actually experience?”  I asked.  He described some of the features before I stopped him and got him to think about what I as his customer really care about.  Of course he knew the answer and I could see the penny drop, but sometimes we get so wrapped up in the detail that the blindingly obvious is obscured from view.  Thinking about the desired outcome (in this case describing benefits that our customers will relate to) is the easiest way to focus.  The challenge so many of us face is to stop, completely de-clutter our minds and then concentrate on what is really important, discarding all of the surrounding baggage. 

So too with my young aviators; when you have an emergency, forget the mission and completely ignore those compliance tasks that assume far more importance than they merit.  Two priorities – get the aircraft down in one piece and make sure somebody knows where to find you.  If it is hard to focus on our own survival then the rest of us can be forgiven when can’t always see the wood for the trees.

Banner image © Mark Neild 2013  Dolphin in Bay of islands New Zealand taken shortly before we went swimming with them.