Issue 1.12 | June 2010

In this Article: how focus allows you to increase the power of your resources.

by Jonathan Wilson

To make its mark in a crowded marketplace, every business needs horsepower.  Increasing your business’s horsepower is, at its core, about creating competitive advantage.  Or, to put it another way, add another horse, and you increase your odds of winning.

Adding horses might include hiring talent, mergers and acquisitions, diversification, acquiring intellectual property, and securing investment capital or business loans.  While each of these may add power, we will see that they may also simply add to your load.  Much of our desire for another horse is misguided.  There is a way to get far more from our one horse, and without hurting the horse.

To explain why, however, I need to switch analogies — from horses, to rivers.

In the remote and rugged region of Papua where I grew up, the rivers run strong and swift through deep gorges.  I particularly enjoyed exploring the spectacular gorge of a river called the Heluk.  Its canyon has steep, rainforested sides or, occasionally, sheer cliffs – some as high as 700 metres (2300 feet).  To get to the Heluk, my friends and I would descend along a tributary valley which eventually flattens out about 500 metres from the Heluk.  Although the Heluk river was not yet in our sight, hidden as it was by forest, two things caused me to feel a building sense of awe as we exited the tributary valley: the thunderous roar of the river, even through the trees, and the shaking of the ground.  It took just minutes to emerge from the forest and stand on the banks of this churning, constant surge of water.  It was an exhilarating and intimidating sight.  If we had to cross the river on a make-shift bridge made in urgent need, I felt some nervousness.  I knew the terrible stories of individuals who had fallen into this river and met with a quick and violent end as the river smashed their bodies against the enormous boulders around which it surged.

The Heluk River is an example of what happens when you focus a resource.  Focusing a resource tremendously increases its power.  The narrower the focus, the greater the power.

The opposite is also true.  A lack of focus dissipates power.  The next valley system east of the Heluk is the Seng.  The Seng River is similar to the Heluk, only it runs down an even bigger valley.  In 1982 a severe earthquake resulted in the Seng being dammed by landslides.  When the dam eventually broke, the released water wreaked destruction as it charged down the valley; until it left the mountains.  There, the accumulated waters from the dam dispersed across hundreds of square kilometres of lowland rainforest and swampland.   In the lowlands, the damage was negligible.

If there is no focus, even substantial resources lack power.   To illustrate: the vast majority of mergers fail because of poor cultural fit; diversification can diffuse a company’s leadership and operational energy; acquiring intellectual property can end up being wasted effort; gaining capital funding can simply lead to indebtedness.  Each failure is an indication that the resource was not properly leveraged because of imprecise or inaccurate focus.  In fact, to return to the horse analogy, where there is insufficient clarity of focus, acquiring additional horses simply adds to the load the company must carry, rather than the power it releases.

Find Your Soul; Find Your Focus; Find Your Power

How do we find the kind of focus that allows us to effectively align and maximize our resources?  In our Leadership by Soul™ model, Capacity is necessary to achieve Purpose.  On the other hand, a clear purpose functions as the canyon walls between which to channel capacity.   An organization with a profound but simple purpose can turn even its limited capacity into focused power.  The tighter the focus, the greater the power of the resource you have at hand.

Earlier this year, my associate, Dave Loney, and I took a historic Canadian not-for-profit through a differentiation and strategy process.  The first step was to identify its soul.  The leadership recognized that, to make vital decisions around resource management, it needed a rationale.  How were they to know why one thing mattered and another did not?

The process we implemented identified three critical drivers for the organization, each reflecting a distinct aspect of organizational reality: motivational, aptitudinal, and financial.  The findings were significant, and immediately resolved some strategic tensions that had existed within the organization.  For example, the organization realized that a key part of its soul was its entrepreneurial and nimble responsiveness to poverty issues.  It is an emergency care organization.  This immediately addressed a question it had previously and inconclusively wrestled with, about whether or not to engage in some long-term, rehabilitative programs.

In the ensuing development of a more finely-tuned business model and then a strategic plan, the organization was immediately able to decisively and confidently redistribute resources in order to focus power into operations that were aligned with their soul.  They also eliminated waste by phasing out non-aligned programs.  The net effect was that they improved projected cost efficiencies by 12%.

There will always be someone who has more horses than you.  Your competitive advantage lies first in learning how to leverage and maximize the horse you already have.  That is what I call market leadership, and the starting point is uncovering the fundamental truths about what can and will set your company apart from others — your company’s soul.

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