|Less Focus, More Creativity|
|Tuesday, 15 February 2011 12:40|
Excellence, Role Playing, and the Need for Balance and Variety:
It is no accident that today’s entrepreneurs – those with staying power – lead multi-faceted existences. Studies show that the executive who is and remains “super-focused” solely on his or her role as an “executive” ultimately brings less creativity to the boardroom table than he or she should or is expected to.
It is common for executives to get “caught up” in the role, and in proving themselves in the role, rather than remaining flexible and agile with respect to dealing with the aspects of the role itself. As a result, many executives develop insecurities related to detail and incidental performance. Then, they commit even more intensely to “the role”, further compromise their performance, and add to the existent imbalance in their lives. And, significantly, with imbalance comes an inevitable narrowing of perspective.
Singularity of Focus and Squashed Talent
Intense focus on one aspect of one’s life, whether one is a student, an employee or an enterpreneur, is ultimately limiting. It results, as indicated above, in a narrowing of perspective, rather than allowing for insight triggered by involving one’s mind and heart in and on a wider variety of issues and terrains. Universities know this and are not partial to what used to be called the “egghead”, the student who has a near perfect grade point average but has never played a sport. When institutions of higher learning are choosing potential leaders, some who will be the executives of tomorrow, they are looking for a well-rounded, social, personable and intellectually curious individual. Intense focus on one aspect of one’s life results in a narrowing of perspective, rather than allowing for insight triggered by involving one’s mind and heart in and on a wider variety of issues and terrains.
In fact, the most important criterion for both top graduate school acceptance and entrance into the office nearest that of the CEO, is the element of broadly defined communication. This is to say that investing organizations try to measure how well an applicant appears to be able to communicate ideas and concepts, and connect with, and motivate others, regardless of with whom, when and where she is communicating. Even, as unlikely as it sounds, how someone communicates about himself, or can communicate about himself - about his thoughts, dreams, ideas and beliefs - is seen as a measure of potential success.
Self-knowing and articulate people are more tolerant, accepting, understanding and “intelligently attentive” in situations involving other people – and, the wider their previous and ongoing experience with places and people, the more likely they are to be even better (than excellent) communicators under pressure. Needless to say, in now urgently, ever-changing times, an experienced communicator with a wide perspective on life, living, and people is worth more than his weight in gold.
Balancing Communication and Focus
In a recent executive forum, a repeated annual get-together among the same senior executives, seven men and two women came together to assist each other in assessing the degree of “creative balance” in their lives. In these sessions, each person, with only nudging professional guidance, shares and receives input with respect to the time and the quality of energy and focus he or she brings to his or her position, marriage, family, friends (separate from the marriage), “playful fitness” (as opposed to Type A self-flagellation), reading (unrelated to work), and pure “play”. Each category has sub-categories that are also key to the evaluation and relevant to re-balancing if necessary. Family, for example, has a half dozen sub-categories, one of which is “children”. However, “play” or “playful fitness” can be combined with, for example, quality time with children. On the other hand, if there is a “problem child”, the group and group leader focus on how much and what kind of time and energy are being invested in the child and the nature of the related return on the investment. Then, there would be related discussion about how the investment affects the marriage, level of fitness, and time spent and openness with friends.
Marriage, loosely defined as partnership with another adult, is seen as a critical factor in both remaining well and smart – or creative. Among other points of discussion, the executives share whether and how they are communicating with their spouses, whether there is time put aside for “just us” so as to ensure a reasoned and creative running of a family and household. It is also important to ascertain whether or not there is sufficient merging of the “worlds” of each spouse. If communication, even just the mutual flow of bits and bytes of daily information is off or limited in a marriage, there occurs a stifling or narrowing of perspective (and more) on the part of both spouses. It serves an executive well to hear, see, know, understand and share daily life events with those with whom she shares her life, especially the ins and outs, ups and downs of the daily life of her co-pilot. And vice versa.
The Process of Staying “Better”
Each category and sub-category is tinkered with and participants note and discuss full or creeping imbalances. All in the same executive boat, individual reasons for decreased equilibrium are discussed openly and sometimes emotionally, and the results are always rewarding. As an exercise paid for by respective corporations, executives return with a tune-up, and with a blueprint for re-adjustment. In short, they return smarter and less likely to role play or compensate in other deleterious ways. Families welcome the return of a more resourcefully attentive parent, and spouses often benefit from renewed appreciation, sharing and closeness. Most importantly, the executive who might have been too focused in her “role” as “an executive” has cleared out some mind-narrowing cobwebs and is able to re-focus, with legitimacy and insight, on the elements of her job. It is a chance to get and stay real.
Narrowing, Age and Responsibility
Though it is less likely, even those who entered corporate life after a few successful initiatives of his own, world travel, a stint at war or teaching irrigation techniques to the poor in the arid regions of Pakistan, can lose their creative edge with the passing of time and the compounding of responsibilities. This is all the more reason to widen one’s focus when one is young. Just as children who are fit and involved in sports tend to stay fit, longer, as adults, children with a wide and widening perspective, matched by actions and activities, stay smarter, longer, as adults.
However, all adults, in this case executive adults, have to remain vigilant against the temptation to recoil in an over-stimulating world. The very criteria that executives have to incorporate into their decision-making everyday can make one become, over time, “detail averse” and narrowing in one’s perspective on life, family, future and more. An executive can become fixated on details that are irrelevant to his position while ignoring the details under his own purview. He can also find tangential interests, stimulants and preoccupations that detract from an open, resilient and flexible posture toward his family, its individual members, and, of course, the details of his executive position.
At the end of each two-day session, each year, the group leaves with a motto or phrase that epitomizes their work together. This year, there was more use of the “L” word (unfortunately, a distinctly “un-corporate” word) than in previous sessions. Loving the aspects of their lives that they had once and repeatedly committed to, received a lot of air time, as did, specifically, loving their spouses and children well. In a new terrain, they re-assessed these elements as parts of a balance that would both sustain them and make them better and more viable individuals, managers, parents and citizens. This year, they left sharing the private affirmation, “I’m here. I love being here. And I want to show it”.
Families, friends and employees applaud.