The focus dilemma

by Admin
Updated: August 13, 2020

The focus dilemma is how to decide what to focus on when every specific detail needs attention

Focus is one of the most essential modes of behavior for achieving anything, especially in business. One downside is that, as the focus becomes more and more precise, the bigger picture becomes lost from view. By definition, it’s only possible to focus on one thing at a time. When you focus on navigating you cannot also focus on driving.

Clear uninterrupted focus on the task at hand provides for more concentrated effort and this normally produces the quickest and highest quality results.


Imagine you have both a hobby and a business and you spend 50% of your time on each. If you put aside your hobby and focus 100% on the business, you should be able to produce dramatic results.

But what does it mean to focus 100% on a business? “Business” involves a lot of different activities - sales and production for example. How do you decide where to concentrate your efforts?

If you focus on sales you should see sales increase. But there are different types of sales activity and concentrating our effort on one specific type might generate better results than trying to spread it across all types.

Now, while you are fully devoted to sales, what is happening to your production line, resource management etc? This is the dilemma.

Additional challenges

Focus, while highly effective, tends to preclude creative thinking as well as wider observation. It can result in missed opportunities or ignored warnings.

Also, the greater the focus on a single detail, the greater the difficulty switching attention away, whether to an overview or onto another detail.


  • When you’re looking down a microscope, your awareness is reduced. Unless you look up, you may not notice if the lab is on fire.
  • Rowing (facing backwards) is faster than paddling (facing forwards) but you cannot do it effectively and look where you’re going simultanously.

Resolving the dilemma

It is essential that anyone in charge of both the details and the overall plan must step back to review the situation from time-to-time in order to avoid disaster.

This might be the only solution for a startup business with few staff and it is frequently the role of an entrepreneur, but it’s not an ideal solution: Focus keeps getting broken and overview is not constant.

Given that every detail needs an appropriate level of focus, progress demands more focus than one person can provide. This is the main reason why businesses must involve multiple people in order to prosper.

Implications for the entrepreneur

The ability to resolve the focus dilemma is an essential skill for entrepreneurs who want to retain control of their businesses.

Most entrepreneurs have a combination of skills that contributes driving force to a business in its early stages. However, as the business grows, specialists can and should be hired.

The skill most necessary for continued growth is knowing where focus is needed, where overview is needed and how to fill those roles with the right people.

A lack of this ability is why investors sometimes lose confidence in founders when the business reaches a certain size.

More info

“Why Multitasking Will Derail Your Business” at (Suggested solutions: Organize better and learn to say No)

“How To Maintain Your Small Business Focus” at (Likens the problem to ADD)

“How can I grow my company when I’m too busy to spend time on strategy?” at (“The first thing you need to do is to look at activities you are performing that... can be done better by someone else.”)

Internal links

Project planning Opportunity cost Diminishing returns All articles
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