I’ve always understood the word “focus” to imply a spotlight - what is currently in your mindspace. What is the one thing you are spending most of your time working on? I have always had a bit of a problem with that thought. Focus, I believe, depends heavily on what you are building. If you are building multiple micro SaaS, then focus is not your friend. Or, minimally, the focus is now elsewhere and not on any of the SaaS themselves. I tend to have these arguments in my head. Luckily, I don’t throw them around too much so its largely privately held.

I’ve come to realize there is a different meaning to “focus” than it seems. And perhaps, this is the meaning that we are supposed to “focus” on. For what its worth, it does click in my head.

Re-interpreting Focus

I exit all my previous startup stints because I wholly disagreed with the founders. In one case, I have too much respect for the founder, so I never quite argued my case with him. In the second case, I have a lot of respect for my founder and who he is, but I still argued my case. Over time, the arguments got uncomfortable and I didn’t want to lose respect for this wonderful person over trivial things. So I chose to exit. I am still on his advisory group and I meet him from time to time. This has really worked out for the best.

The problem in both cases was this: our metrics were wrong. At least, in my head, they were wrong. So we were working on the wrong things. But that’s my version. Maybe they both had/have very good reasons for what they did/are doing. I suspect this will happen with my employees down the line.

We often identify metrics to assess if we are doing the right thing. But more often than not, we start optimising for the metric. Of course, in some places the metric has a direct correlation with the measure. But in some other cases, it does not. To the extent, I recently stumbled upon this wonderful Goodhart’s law which goes like this:

when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.

Personally, to me, this was revelatory.

Focus, to me, is the ability to look at the metric without losing the target. The more we are able to look at a number and then decide if we are moving in the right direction and adjust the direction (not to get better numbers, that’s incidental), then we are focused on the problem.

I probably am leaving you more confused than when you started. And yet, its clear as a summer day in my head!