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Is Focus Overrated?

When Bill Gates met Warren Buffett for the first time, their host at dinner, Gates's mother, asked everyone around the table what they believed was the single most important factor for their success. Gates and Buffett gave the same answer: "Focus."

Focus implies clarity, a laser-like concentration on one thing. When you focus a camera or a microscope, something blurry becomes clear.

The same goes for our goals. The fewer goals we have, the more likely we'll achieve all of them.  

For instance, Steph Curry, the Warriors sharpshooter, makes his free-throws 90% of the time. So there is a 90% chance he will make the next free-throw he shoots. But if we extend that to 10 in a row, the probability he makes all 10 shrinks to just 35% (.9^10).

It makes sense right? If we only had to focus on one thing, we could pour all of our energy into it. 

But still, it isn't easy.

Focusing is hard because the world pulls at our attention, desperately vying for a few minutes of our time. Seemingly fruitful opportunities crop up. Focusing on one thing gets boring, leaving us to wonder, "Is focus necessary after all?"

It depends on what is most important. If novelty is crucial to you, the benefits of focus might be outweighed. 

Another factor is diversification. 

What if we put all our eggs in one basket and fail? What if our one goal in life is to become a professional basketball player and we fail miserably? That would be horrible!

The same goes for investing. 

We don't want to lose all of our money so we diversify across different asset classes.


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So we've established there are some downsides to focus as well. It's not all Bill Gates' and Warren Buffetts' (doesn't have the same ring to it as sunshine and rainbows huh?)

1.    The opportunity cost of focus means we can't experience a lot of different things. 

2.    We could fail even while focusing. And we don't get that time back.

These warnings against focus are valid, but they stunt us from giving focus a chance. The only way we are ever going to achieve great things is by pouring our limited energy into a few things. 

Unfortunately, time and resources are scarce. That's the crux of why focus is so important. 

If we had unlimited time and energy, focus wouldn't be necessary.

However, we can't hide from the reality of it.

I'll end with another Warren Buffett story, 

"He once told his personal airplane pilot, Mike Flint, that Flint needed to do three things to reach his goals. The first was to write down his top twenty-five goals. The second was to circle the top five most important ones. Finally, he should separate the top five into their own list-and put goals six through twenty-five on a "not-to- do" list. 
Warren now asked Flint when he planned to get to work on the top five goals, and what his approach would be. 
Flint explained, "Warren, these are the most important things in my life right now. I'm going to get to work on them right away. I'll start tomorrow. Actually, no I'll start tonight." 
And that's when Buffett asked him about the second list, "And what about these other 20 things on your list that you didn't circle? What is your plan for completing those?" 
Flint replied, "Well the top 5 are my primary focus, but the other 20 come in at a close second. They are still important so I'll work on those intermittently as I see fit as I'm getting through my top 5. They aren't as urgent, but I still plan to give them a dedicated effort." 
To which Buffett replied: "No. You've got it wrong, Mike. Everything you didn't circle just became your 'avoid at all cost list.' No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you've succeeded with your top 5." 

So to answer the title of this post: no, focus is not overrated.


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