There is one incredibly common used word of advice in the startup world – focus.

Mentors like to say things like pick a vertical and build it; advisors say focus on a segment and go after it; entrepreneurs say let’s concentrate on the product and launch; investors say focus on growth and success will come. We can probably think of many examples where this happens and the truth is that it works.

Focusing avoids dispersing energy and hopefully running out of limited resources. If you’re building a product, focusing helps you tailor what you’re building to a specific customer and get accurate feedback to improve your product. Everyone knows that it is hard to please everyone if you start listening to a wide range of customers. Different needs and requirements may make you lose the critical guiding direction that will allow you to build something coherent.

Nevertheless, and probably because the word is so heavily advised and advertised, we often fall in the trap of not looking at the bigger picture.

I often come across extremely capable hackers and engineers who are so committed to building the perfect product or writing the perfect code that they forget why they are actually doing it and this might jeopardise the final result if you reach the point where you lose the global vision.

It’s important to take a step back and think about the reasons why you are building what you’re building. Remind yourself of the purpose, the need and why it makes sense to do what you’re doing. You would be surprised how many times people realise that they have shifted away from the initial purpose and find themselves working on something for the only purpose of subconsciously justifying the sunk cost – the time invested in working towards an objective. This happens without them realising that in fact when you look at the bigger picture, the context is no longer the same, the competition landscape has changed or even that recent technological innovation has introduced a completely new set of challenges.

Now, you might ask, okay so what shall we do? First everyone tells us that we should focus, now you’re telling us we should unfocus?

The answer is don’t do anything, meaning don’t give any preference to one over the other. Try to keep a clear view on what you’re working on and who you’re doing it for but from time to time take a step back and reflect on where you’ve come from and what made you start building that in the first place and where you’re trying to get.

You might be surprised to find out that you actually lost focus by focusing and that you might regain focus by unfocusing.

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