Entrepreneurial Myopia

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I love going narrow and deep on a topic.

It makes me feel good to devote a serious amount of deliberate energy, practice and study to getting really good at one thing. This may be due, at least in part, to the fact that according to the results of my VIA Signature Strengths Questionnaire, developed by founding father of Applied Positive Psychology, Professor Martin Seligman, knowledge acquisition was pretty close to the top for me.

Developing a sense of mastery or at least deep knowledge in an area or skill feels good. Really good. And it can develop into a phenomenal business asset, leading to the creation of ideas, solutions, products, works of writing, art, music and expression that blow people away.

But there’s often a problem, when applied to the business of business.

The commitment it takes to go narrow and deep on a level that creates genius pulls you from other activities and people. When you’re working to launch or develop a business and you don’t have a team in place to do all those things that need to be done beyond the realm of your quest for depth, that can mean the very things needed to make the leap from creator of coolness to income generator get lost in the fray. Even with a team, your deep focus can pull you out of the level of leadership needed to drive not just the “interest,” but the business-engine forward.

That’s not all. There’s another challenge in spending all your time in deep and narrow land…

And that’s the potential to develop a condition I call entrepreneurial myopia. You become so hyper-focused on your tiny slice of the world that your depth of field begins to narrow to a point where everything becomes a nail to your hammer. You lose objectivity and start to view what you’re doing as the only way something can be done, solved or expressed.

You become a champion of your idea, your solution, your craft and view it as the ultimate source of delight or the only “reasonable” way to solve a problem. You discount all others because you’ve become wed not to the desire to serve, solve and delight, but to the need to bring this “thing” that’s become everything to you to the world.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, when the object of your deep interest and commitment is, in fact, the best solution or a true source of extraordinary delight. Problem is, when you’re on the inside looking out, you’re in the worst possible place to know which end of the spectrum you’re working on. Delusion or delight.

Narrow and deep is good. Especially in life where the drive is purely the intrinsic joy of going narrow and deep.

But when this quest is bundled with the desire to turn the output of your efforts into service to others in the name of solving a problem or creating a delight and, from that, generating an income, it’s equally important to create mechanisms that allow you to step back, to remove yourself and ask, “is the work that’s being driven by an intrinsic joy aligned with what large numbers of people want or need…and are willing to pay for.”

The moment you bring money into the equation, narrow and deep isn’t enough, you need to apply your efforts in a way that is aligned with the wants and needs of those you’re creating for.

If the person you’re creating for is you, that’s fine. In fact, it’s a gift.

But don’t confuse that gift with a business…

So, what do YOU think?


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22 responses

22 responses to “Entrepreneurial Myopia”

  1. Marguerite says:

    Stellar! I tend to do that in a couple areas of my life: what I create and what I study. It’s interesting that you have this topic today because “stepping back” for a moment was a topic of conversation last night.

    I think it’s necessary not only for the reasons you state, but also because it allows fresh breezes to blow in. A little fresh breeze sometimes is a very, very stimulating thing and always welcome. I don’t know anyone that says, “Geeze! I hate that fresh breeze!”

    Focus, yes. Be myopic when the times call for that. But always leave a little stepping room for that breeze. You never know what epiphany and/or delights it may bring with it.

  2. Jonathan

    Without wishing to sound too sycophantic, I am amazed how close you have come to describing, in such lucid detail, my current situation. I gave up practising law last year (after 14 years in the saddle) and, ever since, I have been trying to reinvent myself. The difficulty that I have is whether to focus my efforts on growing a business (what type?) or going deep and learning a new set of skills that will scale and enable me to build a business. A bit chicken and egg…

    Being a lawyer was a wonderful experience but, even now, as soon as I announce to the world that I am a non-practising solicitor [attorney] that automatically colours, I think, the way people perceive me. Right now I am focused on building a small business [me] on social media for legal practice. In one sense it is easy – I understand the cultural dynamic – but, in another, it often feels like I am pushing water up hill in trying to ‘convert’ many non believers to the power of the people to people paradigm that is social media. And harder still, even though lawyers would vehemently disagree with me, they are not innately social when it comes to their work. Outside … that is a different matter entirely.

    In terms of my skill set, I am driven by one thing: to be the most that I can. Or as Nietzsche says: “To become what we truly are.” I want to impart my deep love of personal development but that means having a packaged product.

    And then there is the writing. Deep down I would love to get published but think if I focus my energies on that then knowing my intensely competitive side, I will dig in and just keep going until it hurts (late nights et al) which will mean that the business planning will go out the window.

    I am sure it will come together but knowing which one to invest my time in is still a daily challenge.


  3. Kim says:

    As someone who also loves to go narrow and deep on the knowledge front, this is a good reminder. I particularly liked thus as a mission statement, to serve, solve and delight. Keeping curiosity and openness at the forefront, to me, makes life much more exciting.

  4. Erin says:

    I think it takes a big person to admit to this condition! Thank you for bringing it to light so that the possibility of its existence may be examined.

  5. Hiro Boga says:

    Thank you for this, Jonathan.

    When I’ve gone “too deep” the world has a way of reminding me that genius and mastery are not ends in themselves, but means by which the Sacred expands in me, and nurtures, blesses and serves the Sacred in my world — in my family, friends, clients, and community.

    “To serve, solve and delight”…lovely! Thank you, my friend.

  6. Heather Holm says:

    Thanks for the link to an interesting site.

    It has been said that many entrepreneurs have a shade or two of ADD, and one sterling feature of ADD, paradoxically, is the ability to “hyper-focus” and go very deep on a subject that really interests you.

    So the dynamic you describe is probably relevant for a lot of us!

  7. Marilyn Taillon says:

    You have just described why I am not in business for myself anymore.

  8. Shiv says:

    The solution, as you are trying to hint at in your article,then, is to don different hats for different roles, and to be practical enough to know when to change hats. Be a specialist (or super-specialist) when it comes to your passion (or hobby). Go narrow and deep and create something new. But be a generalist when it comes to business. Super-specialists are not very good at the art of creating wealth.

    But what if your passion is business? Or when you are trying to convert your hobby into business? How difficult or easy it is to “detach” yourself, to not go narrow and deep? Perhaps involve someone who compliments you? No wonder, most successful ventures have a team behind them, not a single passionate, super-specialist.

  9. Tina says:

    Very enlightening…. could it be described as
    “living in a box” or Type A problem or being too focused?
    If we aren’t focusing in this economy..
    what then?

  10. Erica says:

    It’s funny; this distinction is also the essential dividing line between academia and industry in the sciences. I’m just beginning the process of bridging this transition, navigating from “narrow and deep” to a much wider focus. There is always room for deep knowledge, but myopia is a real risk. In the end, I think you need both – and neither to an extreme. That might be easier in a team of people with different natural inclinations, but I think it’s also possible to develop within an individual. At least, I hope it is!

  11. Aaron Scott says:

    This is the problem with higher education in many respects, if professors truly had to monetize their deep dives to a paying market then their research and solutions might be more realistic and applicable. . .

  12. Kerri Salls, says:

    Spot on. This is a perpetual challenge for entrepreneurs.

  13. Two comments … Julian – trying to convert the non-believers is such an ordeal, why-ever would you want to do that? Put your gift out and know that it lands on the ears of those who are ready to hear it.

    In my own work, helping people to identify the work of their dreams and launch it into the world, I have found that people for whom that doesn’t resonate are better served by traditional recruiters and I am happy to direct them to where they can get the solution to the problem they perceive.

    Jonathan, right on! When we think our passion is the right solution for everyone else’s problem (w/o taking the time to understand what the problem is as perceived by the person we are trying to help) we can become the hammer and no one wants to feel that pressure from us! Better to use those amazing skills of listening and discernment to determine whether our “fix” is right for the problem.

  14. Love your words and insight. I have a strong tendancy towards this issue. It’s a love/hate thing for me. My business, life, passions all cross paths. So when I find “my new” level or progression of interest, business, passion it’s all I want to do. I know I need to expand it out, share it with employees/coworkers, but my hyper focusedness keeps me narrow and deep. Thanks for sharing, something new to look at in my life! Here I go.

  15. Interestingly, there are thoughts on innovation that consider this. You need to go narrow and deep on your core business, as that is your source of revenue, existing customers, and profits. But you need to be innovating outside of that box, trying new things, experimenting in order to find the next great thing. Especially wise to do it when all is going well, as you’ don’t want the pressure to survive by finding something new when you’re in the midst of business contraction.

  16. Karl says:

    Thank you, Jonathan.

    I was just realising my own myopia, but was still lacking the clear understanding and implications of my narrow vision … and then your post came along.

    Your insights are always well thought out and presented. Thank you for sharing something that will help me act more objectively and inline with not only my client’s needs, but my family too!

    All the best

  17. Sara says:

    Aren’t you sort of describing the creative process? Needing to focus on your idea and really explore it before your ‘Aha’ moment which could come soon or much, much later! In the meantime you have to eat, so you need cashflow! I am working on reproducing my work as limited edition prints and developing a small publishing business to finance my career as a fine artist. Then I can put ‘Gone painting’ on my door and get obsessive about my work. In theory!!!! I will let you know how I get on…..

  18. Dom says:

    Pithy post Jonathan, I guess the ideal skill is to be able to do both. Go narrow and deep to build expertise, and also keep a broad perspective to maintain balance and remain open to new ideas and viewpoints.

  19. Well put. Myopia or a narrow perspective can keep you from the picture or seeing things outside of that perspective. Awareness of myopia at least provides an opportunity to bring others in with different perspectives. But you still have to be open to listen. My daughter in law looked at a awful reality show where the host is hired to help out pregnant couples with all sorts of things (I don’t remember the name of it). At any rate, one couple hired her to set up a process to vet a name for their yet unborn son. THey wanted a name that would help him become President or CEO or something of thst scale and power. THe host hired a group of peoole from various fields, psychology etc. None of them agreed with the names the couple had on their list. THe couple then came up with all the reason that group was wrong. That essentially happened two more times. Amazing. My point being that we do have to be careful when we’re entrenched in a view we believe in because outside perspectives will not necessarily sway us. Or we tend to find others and books and blogs that support what we already believe it. Can be a bit of an conundrum.

  20. Lisa Alessi says:

    Your timing is brilliant Jonathan! You’re describing exactly what I’ve been going through the last few months in launching my website and going deep in work that helps people connect with their “why,” their purpose, what they stand for, what Simon Sinek does for corporate leaders on a very individual basis. Probably no surprise that I test highest on the VIA Strengths for “curiosity and interest in the world.”

    I think when you are developing a deep level of mastering and doing what you love, it’s natural to get lost in the process and myopic. The key like you said is to step back and detach at bit from the this driving force and get perspective — listening to what people are saying about your work, look at it from different angles, getting some distance and space from it and then doing nothing, just listening, what’s your internal gauge/guidance telling you.

    A good friend of mine was inspired to create a clever little website last week after several conversations with people who were pushing too hard — for a little bit of levity, check out: http://www.slackercoach.com Being driven to mastery and making things happen are wonderful when you are inspired to do great work but its also good to slack a little to get some perspective.

    Thanks so much for sharing your experiences and such thought provoking questions, they naturally make me want to stop and pause!

  21. I began building this “thing” out of a desire to “serve, solve and delight” but it feels like it has taken on a life of it’s own, like a newborn baby, noisy and demanding. Thank you for your insight into the situation which feels individual and personal but is obviously a common one. Really identify with the picture of trying to switch from “creator of coolness” to “income generator” also with Julian’s comments and many others above.
    Thanks once again.

  22. Mary Speller says:

    So true Jonathan. I have not taken the test, but I think my results would be very similar to yours.
    People build relationships with people they trust, and being the font of all knowledge does not seem to be the most attractive attribute that others are looking for!

    It can be a challenge to go and do the opposite to what is counter intuitive to get the results we want in business.

    Great article, and I will be checking out the questionnaire for more gems.