Speed of Focus

Focus: center of activity or attention; point of concentration; condition permitting clear perception or understanding; adjustment for distinct vision.

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[This blog post is one in a series focused on Collaboration. To read more, visit here.]

Hands down, Russia was winning the space race for quite a while. Getting something into orbit around the earth was accomplished with the Russian satellite Sputnik in 1957. Russia made it to the moon first with an unmanned spacecraft in 1959. The next big race was to get a human into space. By 1961 Russia won that race too. But in 1969, the United States won the race for getting a man on the moon.[i] Mars seems to be the next big goal. We’ll see who gets there first. Whether or not Buzz Lightyear is the first to infinity and beyond remains to be seen.

Katherine Johnson’s math and geometry helped Mercury, Freedom, Friendship, Apollo, and Space Shuttle missions be successful. She was so brilliant that a geometry class had to be created for her at West Virginia State College. But beyond her brain was her fortitude, being both a woman and black playing a vital role in the 1960s.[ii] Her focused work helped to speed up the successes of NASA in space travel.

Recently it struck me that NASA launched in 1958 and put three men on the moon in 1969. That’s eleven years. I wonder how long it would have taken without focusing on a shared goal. NASA’s start was a consolidation of space exploration work in the United States, so it wasn’t an “out of nothing” venture. But it represents a focus of resources including people like Katherine Johnson. Those focused resources helped to accomplish humans walking on the moon.

But I wonder. If President Kennedy had not said in 1962, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade,” would stepping onto the moon by an American have happened only seven years later?

Pondering this space of space travel got me thinking about when we are like Buzz Lightyear and looking at an “infinity and beyond” type of goal. Sometimes our conversations about community impact are like that. We, with full determination, say we are going to bring to an end homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, human trafficking, suicide, and other life-robbing realities in our villages, towns, and cities. Nobel? Yes. Doable? Maybe. Believing it needs to happen helps, but it doesn’t happen if we always live from a wide-angle perspective.

Mars has more of a chance of happening sooner because the moon has happened. The moon happened because orbiting around the earth and returning was accomplished. Humans getting into rockets happens after the rockets and systems have been built and repeatedly tested. Speeding up the timetable for the big, hairy, audacious goal happens when the steps that lead there are clearly on purpose.

Goal setting is not the primary focus of this post. My aim here is to help you see how focus speeds up timelines of accomplishment. As crazy as it may sound, we have to slow down and focus to speed up.

Focused Destination – Not Just Anywhere
One morning you decide you want to go somewhere. It doesn’t matter where, just anywhere. When you go to pull out of your driveway you are already making choices about where that will be. Anywhere always turns into somewhere. That eventually somewhere trip can be fun, but, that’s vacation or retirement. What about the impact you want to make in your community? Where is the somewhere you are headed?

Let’s say you are taking a trip from where you live to the most distant geographic area you can drive. You settle on the town or city of destination. A few days later you load up and head out. There are only certain roads that will get you there. Others won’t. Choices will be made along the way, if not ahead of time. Focused destination impacts the roads you travel.

Your focused destination should determine the daily steps you are taking. Resources have limitations, so why not invest them wisely in what you desire to accomplish? To make a wise investment you must know what you are investing in. Is what you invest yourself in leading to where you want to be?

Picture1Think about the field of vision running from your eye to a distant object. Picture a waffle cone on its side with the point at your eye and the open top centered on your distant object. The lay of the land between the point of the cone to the cone’s opening is territory to navigate. You can now develop clarity on the resources to mobilize, relationships to cultivate, and challenges to navigate.

Do you think that what you want to accomplish together as a community is focused enough for you to find or create the pathway? Have you determined “the somewhere?” In community development and impact work, the destination is the preferred future for that community. With that focused destination, you can identify the mountains, deserts, and rivers that must be navigated along the journey.

It is also important to remember that your organization has its vision destination. If you are going to commit to investing, the focused destination of collaborative community work needs some alignment with your organization’s destination. Having this boundary helps you to avoid mission creep. Don’t change to chase dollars or position.

Collaboration conversations can, however, have a positive effect on organizational shift. As we learn, we should grow and change. Maybe your organization’s vision needs an update. When was the last time your team and your Board of Directors did this kind of work? Get around some collaboration tables and listen. What do you hear that stirs something in you that says, “Our focused destination needs an adjustment.” Maybe take it to the appropriate people and start talking about what you heard and why it matters.

This is not a haphazard involvement. The focused destination is on purpose. It is intentional, not by accident.

Focused Determination – Not Just Anything
Determination is very high on the “willing” scale. This level of commitment has fuel and fire behind it. You either know you are determined or you know someone who is. For some people, the description is they are determined. It doesn’t matter what it is, they always have fire behind it. Let’s assess that fire.

Determined about everything doesn’t necessarily lead to much. If everything matters enough for you to be determined about it all, you are driven. Think about the word “driven.” To be driven means someone or something else is driving you. That driver has control of your destination. Happy with it?

The most valuable impact is not always based on the strength of the effort but on its compact and controlled nature. Determination that is dispersed everywhere diminishes the impact. It’s like throwing a handful of BBs at a paper target versus a football. Exerting energy can feel like you're accomplishing something when all you are doing is burning energy. Find a focus for your determination.

Like a focused destination, a focused determination is determined, it’s chosen. You may be determined about several things but what will receive a higher level of focus? That choice could be because it has a higher place in your valuation or it’s just the right time based on the need and the collaboration opportunity.

What do you find yourself burning for when you think about problem-solving in your community? What fires your imagination and creativity? Get out into the community and listen for opportunities to bring that focused determination to a point of need. Maybe you are to be the one who starts the conversation.

Focused Distinction – Not Just Anyone
You are distinctly you. No one else on the earth is exactly like you or your organization. There are elements about who you are that make you distinctively different. Because of who you are and what you bring, what role is it that you should play when you are helping with creating and launching a solution? That role doesn’t need just anyone, it wants you and your organization’s focused distinction.

Do you even know what distinguishes you? You should. Ask a few people and other organizations in the community and see what emerges. Then, develop your belief and confidence in that strength and offer it to the collaborative work.

The distinction that is out of focus or out of place can be a sad loss. In an individual organization, this loss can go on for years. In a collaboration, those people and organizations can often be lost when they sense their best is wasted. When someone feels that what they bring is being wasted, they will walk away and find somewhere else to invest their gift.

While watching an older movie on DVD recently, it continued into the credits. That doesn’t happen with video streaming these days. Enjoying the music I let the credits run. After about a minute I started paying attention to the details and thinking about the general nature of credits. Few people watch movie credits, but every person in those credits brought their distinctive self and strengths to that movie production. The more complex the movie, the longer the credits because of the team it took to pull it off.

It is not just a simple addition problem when distinctions are brought together. When connected, these individual variables become a special formula as the effects are exponentiated and dispersed in myriad ways.

Maximizing the focused strengths and abilities of all partners in community impact also brings into the equation a sustainability factor. It takes less energy to do what you do well. Perpetual energy feeds the collaborative work when everyone is engaged in what distinguishes them.

Katherine Johnson’s focused distinction made her a person of distinction, leading to The Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility at NASA. She has been honored because of the respect she brought to her distinctive part of the solution.  

If you want to speed up the community impact you desire, be sure your destination, determination, and distinction are focused. Make the investment necessary to build that launching pad, rocket, systems, and trajectory correctly. It will help prevent blowing up, burning out, or blasting into an orbit you wish you never entered.

Focus: center of activity or attention; point of concentration; condition permitting clear perception or understanding; adjustment for distinct vision. How is yours?

Action Points

  • Determine your focused destination.
  • Develop your focused determination.
  • Identify and engage your focused distinction.
  • If you have had these elements nailed down for a while, do you need to pull the nails and make some adjustments?
  • Utilize “Simply Available” at the end of “What You See: The Solution” to help you with the work above. Slow down to speed up.



Image by  Freepik
Image by YuliiaKa on Freepik

Do you desire to strengthen your CharityTracker or OasisInsight network to new levels of collaboration and impact? Reach out to Chuck today to schedule your conversation:

ED645C80-CA25-41C2-8B6E-A6E7FA346EC1_1_201_aDr. Chuck Coward serves as Community Impact Specialist for Simon Solutions, Inc. Chuck has invested over 35 years in fostering human and community development from a variety of places and roles, including as a pastor, non-profit Executive Director, Director of Development, businessman, consultant, university professor, The Struggle Coach, and the founder of Entrusted Foundation. Serving to make people and communities stronger is his great passion. Chuck is the proud husband to Anita, dad to four, and granddaddy to eight.

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