Focus on the line on the horizon

Dutch School of Thought, November 16, no comments

By: Jeroen van IJzendoorn, Co-Owner Factor Tachtig

Reading time: 12 minutes

“Instead of a dot as a target point, you’d better have a broader target. A goal that gives you the space to move along with unexpected and unpredictable events.”

Don’t we all like to work towards a specific target? A goal that improves our focus? But isn’t this so-called dot on the horizon too limited? After all, there is always the risk of things changing along the way or something unexpected happening that forces you to make adjustments. I therefore propose that we do not focus on a dot, but on a line on the horizon. So, not a specific target but a broader vision that provides guidance. This approach forms the basis for anyone striving to profile themselves as a thought leader.

I recognize the thought of focusing on a line in the work of two men who have made a great impression on me: Joi Ito and Nassim Nicholas Taleb. In his 9 Principles, Ito explains that change is a constant factor. Taleb describes in his book The Black Swan how unexpected and unpredictable events have the greatest impact on our society.

If you’d ask me, I think that we should all embrace these principles and head for the horizon with a compass, a backpack full of experience and a high MacGyver intellect! The key to success is to learn how to deal with unpredictability and change. With the right attitude – improvising, adjusting and learning – we can keep track of that line at all times.

Focus as a blinker
Of course, focus is a tremendous motivation. But focus also stops us from thinking out of the box. If we fix all our attention on the target, this very focus becomes a blinker.

We should not underestimate the role of coincidences. Most of the major discoveries are made by accident: while searching for the solution to a certain problem, we often find the answer to an altogether different issue. Sometimes, it may look as if technological innovations are rolled out in a planned way, but nothing could be further from the truth. By way of ad hoc experiments we elaborate on current developments.

Due to these coincidences – or serendipity – the added value of focus decreases. If your view is too narrow, developments outside your focus might pass you by quite easily.

Ito explains that therefore resilience is more important than strength, which is one of his principles. If you hold on to your target – or focus – too tightly, you can be sure to break down. If that happens, it will be difficult to get back on your feet. With sufficient resilience, however, you will be able to deal with changes.

Predictability gives little space
Despite the ever-increasing development of predictive tools and algorithms, according to Taleb it will remain impossible to predict unexpected matters. And, so he argues, unexpected matters are often the game changers: the developments or events that turn the world upside down.
Taleb mentions recent Black Swans phenomena like the Internet – Google in particular – and the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Both came as a surprise and have had a significant impact on society. This unpredictability, and its impact, makes it hard to find focus as a dot on the horizon attractive. In that respect, responding to uncertainty is the new focus.

He cites various studies and tests that have shown how bad humans are in the art of predicting. It appears that we always end up on the favourable side. Whether it is the processing time or the output of a project, our perception is always too rosy. Taleb argues that it is a misconception that more knowledge ensures better predictions. Following the news and trying to keep up with all available information does not offer any guarantee for a predictable future.

Here, too, it is clear: instead of a dot as a target point, you’d better have a broader target. A goal that gives you the space to move along with unexpected and unpredictable events.

The route to the line
How do you put this in actual practice? By thinking like a child (again): learning by trial and error. By examining, by going against the grain and not always listening to the authority.

Have you ever organized an afternoon in your company during which you deliberately did not focus? Here, we call that a philosophy session: thinking without blinkers, giving each other space to deviate from the plan, diverging, associating and not knowing where it is all leading. Let go!

Google X is a particularly good example of this. In the Google lab, people are working on diverse projects, including the autonomous or driverless car, and Google Glass. Trying, failing, learning, getting up and making another brilliant discovery by accident. Google – and now Alphabet as well – are none the worse for it.

Responding to developments and changes, being flexible, moving with the flow, bending along and bouncing back again – as far as I’m concerned, those are the qualities that you, as a professional and as a company, should develop further. These qualities are valuable for the growth of your brand, they are to the advantage of your clients, and they are what each thought leader must have.

In this way, you can keep track of the transforming world and notice paradigm shifts faster. This will allow you to respond to them pro-actively and play an active part in creating paradigm shifts yourself. So, open up to what is going on around you. Navigate to that line on the horizon, and embrace everything you encounter along the way.

Jeroen is co-owner of Factor Tachtig, a marketing-communication agency in Liempde (the Netherlands). He is also a knowledge member and active contributor to Dutch School of Thought.

We’d love to hear your thoughts, so please do get in touch and let us know on Twitter what you think!
Use @DST_Fontys and #focusontheline in your Tweet.

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