Focus, Infect And Grow

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Most lawyers make horrible entrepreneurs…

Why?  Because as a lawyer, a huge chunk of your energy goes toward predicting and protecting against everything that could possibly go wrong.  And, one of the most fundamental truths in business and life is that whatever you focus on grows.

Focus all your energy on success and that’s what grows. But…

Focus all your energy on the prospect and likelihood of failure and, all too often, that is what unfolds.  Which is exactly why smart entrepreneurs hire lawyers to handle the worrying, while they remain sometimes manically focused on success.

A veritable cacophony of foofy reasons have been proffered in support of this principle, from quantum physics to telepathy.  And, while I might be open to these, I realize that, here, I may be preaching to the decidedly unfoofy.  So, below you’ll find three concrete explanations.

The psychic cost of attention…

First, obsessing over failure consumes so much of your time, energy and effort, you simply don’t have much left to allocate to the far more important process of success.  There are only so many waking hours in the day to think, plan, solve and do.  Cognitive function is a zero-sum game.

The Belief—Action—Success Cycle…

Two, your mindset has a profound affect on the thousands of little decisions you make and actions you take all day long.  If your mindset constantly reinforces your believe in success, you’ll take slightly bigger risks, do things you’d never have done, reach out to people you normally pass on, your choices and action change.

The net effect of all these micro choices and actions is to deliver an escalating cycle of micro-successes.  You act differently and people respond in kind.  Maybe an investor you never thought would give you the time of day takes your call.  Or, a potential supplier offers a special deal.  These small tastes of triumph, in turn, fuel a bigger belief in success that then fuels more action.

This sets in motion a belief—action—success cycle that becomes self-propagating.  Anyone who has succeeded at anything bold has experienced this.

The Power of Emotional Contagion…

Third, it cultivates an emotional state that sends a palpable message to those around you, capable of either inspiring blind faith and allegiance or distrust and abandonment.  You carry yourself differently, you communicate differently, you tolerate and inspire differently and cultivate an overall sense of confidence, energy and readiance.  And, those around you, on every level, respond powerfully to these deeply-visceral qualities.

In fact, a 2005 study in The Journal of Applied Psychology reveals we actually have the ability to literally infect those around us with our emotional states.  In that study, researchers split 189 students into 63 groups of three and told them they were taking part in a team-building exercise putting up a tent.

Then a leader was chosen for each group, taken aside and shown a video of either a “Saturday Night Live” skit or a clip of torture designed to foster either a positive/upbeat mood or a negative/downbeat mood.  The leaders then returned to their groups and the researchers found that when a leader was upbeat, the team members’ moods rose.  When the leaders mood was downbeat, though, the rest of the group quickly spiraled down to match the leader’s mood.

In the end…

Focus on what can go right, focus on the end and the path will unfold, partly out of planning, partly out of effort, partly out of serendipity and partly out of the million little things you’ll do differently and the emotional contagion you create when you constantly hold the image of success in your mind.

Focus on what can go wrong, though, and without fail, it will.

Agree? Disagree? What’d I miss?

Let’s discuss…

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15 responses

15 responses to “Focus, Infect And Grow”

  1. Amen! One of the most limiting things for an entrepreneur is to try to plan a deflection for every contingency, no matter how remote. Inertia results, and failure is inevitable.

  2. While I’m a pragmatist by nature (sounds so much better than an a pessimist doesn’t it?) I can’t deny, foofily, the signs the universe has been sending that maybe, just maybe, my attitude has something to do with how events unfold.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  3. Dean says:

    Jonathan …

    To me the interesting aspect that you bring up here is to be able to cross the line and be totally “into” whatever project or event you have on at the time and at the same time think through the issues and problems that arise. That can be a tough intellectual and emotional act. The key as you point out is to become fully committed and see the really great things that start to appear to reach the goal plus being able to go with the flow. Perhaps these words play out the difficulty at least as I see them …

    Mahatma Gandhi told us what that looks like in practice; he said, “In regard to every action,
    -one must know the result that is expected to follow,
    -the means thereto, and
    -the capacity for it.

    He who being thus equipped is without desire for the result, and is yet wholly engrossed in the due fulfillment of the task before him, such a man is said to have renounced the fruits of his action.”

    You are spot on in that the leader sets the tone. Watch almost any organization and you will see a mirror of the leader.

    Great post/thoughts to ponder for the day.

  4. Corey Allan says:

    “A veritable cacophony of foofy reasons have been proffered in support of this principle…” wow, did you really just put all those words together in a coherent way?!

    Henry Ford’s statement says the same… “Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right.”

  5. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Betsy – I’m all for planning, but comes a point when action and optimization have to kick in

    @ Pamela – no doubt, attitude matters. And, I actually don’t discount some potential foofiness, just not the foofiness that’s been offered up to me as explanations

    @ Dean – Thanks for sharing hat Gandhi quote, very similar to the teachings in the Gita and something I think about, too. Where I have a challenge, both with the quote and the teachings of Raja yoga and the Gita are with the labeling of desire or attachment to results as bad. It’s probably why I am more drawn to tantric philosphy (though, I am still very much in the learning stages there)

    @ Corey – Yup, I went there (dunno about the “coherent” aspect, though). Now, if only I could figure out what “cacaphony” means! 😉

  6. evecleveland says:

    You sound so smart, I’m going to have to read that 3 times to let it soak in.

  7. Dean says:

    @ Jonathan re Gita … I am with you and the way I have worked around it and that I think fits in with your topic is that you plan as needed, you get jazzed up about what you have going on, you work on the doing/the actions and … then as the last step and this to me is the release, you let your actions and excitement carry the intent you are working toward all the while not letting getting something, some result overwhelm your efforts, your action. That is to say the focus is on the action not the result. Perhaps not a useful way to think about it for others but helps me get the focus just about right.

  8. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ evecleveland – Thanks for the kind words, but we all sounding smart and being smart, hmmmm, not always the same. 😉

    @ Dean – I like that way of looking at at. But, the whole desire thing is still challenge for me, because, reality is, very few people can sustain a concerted effort without working toward a desired outcome. And, that’d even be true if the desire is simply to be doing what you’re doing in the present moment. Uh, oh, head starting to spin. Thanks for giving me something to think about!

  9. Dean says:

    @ Jonathan re Gita etc take II … It is a challenge no matter how you look at it. Perhaps from a different philosopher, Ringo Starr: “It don’t come easy.”

  10. Ken says:


    It is my experience (nothing statistically to back it up) that your first sentence is completely incorrect. Most of the lawyers that I know who have left the law to start a business have done well. It’s just that lawyers make horrible entrepreneurs when it comes to building and running their practices. Tough to create, sell, market and manage the product when you are the product.

    Just as an example. Ran into a former colleague several years ago at a diner. After practicing law for about 5 years he got fed up and started a business with only one customer and with no assets other than his pick up truck. By the time I saw him at the diner (eight years after he started the business) he came over to chat. I still remember his comment ” You know Ken. I have over 300 employees, I’m negotiating to buy out a competitor of the same size. I run a multi million dollar business,and….every single morning I go into the office thinking…. this is a thousand times easier than practicing law”.

    I know it’s just one person’s story but I’ll always remember that conversation.

  11. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Ken – Thanks for your comment. No doubt, there are some lawyers who are able to make the shift in mindset. And, those are the ones we tend to remember, see more publicly (and who want to be known).

    I am actually a convert from securities lawyer to entrepreneur, myself. And, no doubt, for those who can evolve from a “what can go wrong” to a “what can go right” mindset, the analytical training, work experience and ethic are big assets, strike that, huge assets.

    But, of the many lawyers I’ve known, gone to school with, spoken with, interviewed and observed, it’s a really tough shift to make, especially after years of practice. So tough, in fact, that so many lawyers I’ve known who have dreams of entrepreneurship have ended up talking themselves out of what were often viable business ideas by focusing only on the potential risks and magnitude of the potential losses, should things go wrong.

    Also, your observations about how many lawyers “make horrible entrepreneurs when it comes to building and running their practices” is spot on. But, we can’t carve out the private practice of law from the realm of entrepreneurship. It is very much an entrepreneurial venture. So, my opening line was equally applicable to any entrepreneurial endeavor, even the pursuit of a private practice or “solo-preneurial” venture.

    What really fascinates me is how many lawyers have been scared away from entrepreneurship, in part, because of this phenomenon. I have no idea how you’d get honest data on that question, though. Interesting topic to explore in more detail… 🙂

  12. Rachael says:

    Hey this is so true!
    I am coming though a time of crisis in my personal and professional life. I have finally stopped focusing on everything that has gone wrong and am looking to the future with great hope and anticipation. I now consider these past months as a steep learning curve, and recognize I am now wiser, stronger and far more compassionate.
    I feel happier, and I am drawn to positive people, mindsets and websites like yours Jonathan.

  13. Laurie says:

    With my business that I recently started I never thought about failing. I have only considered success. The reason why is that I think that the idea of the business was a gift from God so then why would it fail? I have also strategically targeted the need in the school systems here in Texas. I am teaching with my program what their kids score the worst in on state testing. So again, how would I fail? :O)

  14. Justin says:

    Your posts are always so insightful and inspiring. You’re right; no good can come from thinking of failure all the time, but it is important to acknowledge that it can happen, so you can think of ways to avoid it. As for infectious emotions, I think I read something about that awhile back, but I haven’t thought of the principle in awhile. I’ll have to remember it.

  15. michelle says:

    Sitting here feeling glum and despondent about my lack of employment and increasingly dire financial situation and I read this blog post.

    Attitude is everything!

    Now I shall go focus, over a cup of tea, on what is good and positive and beautiful about the here and now. I shall say my thanks and call upon The Spirit of Enthusiasm for one more push to find “the job that’s right for me”.

    Thank you