The power of focus

The power of focus

It’s time to stop looking for silver bullets. Let’s look at and understand the basics of what it means to be world-class in IT and work hard to implement these basics.

The technology industry, indeed business in general, is enamoured with innovation. Any business-oriented magaszine you pick up talks about innovation and how to be more innovative. Innovate or die is our mantra and we are constantly on the look out for bright ideas. If you judge us by our actions, it seems we all believe that the person with the most ideas will win and all others are doomed. The result is we are constantly looking for and implementing new initiatives. If something is wrong then start a project to fix it. If your competition seems to be better at something than you are then start a project to fix it. If there is a hot, new technology out there you better have an innovation fund available to be able to explore it and get ahead. Change is constant and if you can’t change faster than your competition then you will lose.

I am a big believer in the need for innovation in order to be successful, but is it true that the person with the most ideas wins?

While I am no expert, I have spent a fair bit of time reviewing the “success literature” and trying to understand what it takes to be successful. One of the common themes within the literature is that all successful people are incredibly focused and they practise constantly.

It doesn’t matter if you look at sports stars, musicians, authors or business people, constant focus and practise wins the day. Being a Kiwi bloke, who grew up in the deep south of the South Island, one of my favourite examples is Jeff Wilson. Jeff was an incredible sporting talent who represented New Zealand in both cricket and rugby.

As a teenager he also represented the South Island in age-group basketball. For all his talent, however, it wasn’t until he decided to focus solely on rugby that he became a true superstar and one of the world’s elite.

Another great Kiwi example is Dan Carter. Maybe the best first-five we have ever had. Carter (and Jeff Wilson in his day) practise constantly. As one of the great first-fives in our history, what does Dan Carter spend most of his time doing at practise? I mean he is already brilliant!

My guess is Carter spends most of his time working on the basics; his fitness, his kicking, his passing and his tackling, over and over again trying to get a little better each and every time. I could go on and on with other examples. There are, after all, enough examples from any walk of life you wish to name to fill libraries.

When I get to work do I see this pattern of practise in the IT industry? Do we focus on the basics and look to get a little bit better at the basics every day? Often the answer is no. Rather we look for that one killer initiative, the emerging technology that will change the world or the silver bullet that will solve all our problems. Some times we even have big initiatives for continuous improvement. ITIL, maybe Six Sigma or Lean IT.

Better yet, what about Lean Six Sigma (maybe there’s a marketing opportunity for Lean ITIL)! We work hard on these initiatives and we spend a lot of money on them. And when they don’t work what do we do?

Do we look to practise and improve a little day by day like the most successful people do, or do we look to the next initiative? Usually, we look to the next initiative. Indeed, I suggest that if you look back through our history as an industry, it is full of silver bullets that didn’t quite fulfil their promise.

I suggest it’s time to stop looking for silver bullets. We stop defining and implementing initiative after initiative, innovation after innovation. Instead, let’s look at and understand the basics of what it means to be world-class in IT and work hard to implement these basics, and get a little bit better at them everyday.

Not very glamorous I know, but then how glamorous is it for Dan Carter to take dozens of kicks at goal every day?

While it might not be glamorous, practise and continuous improvement is the key to success.

Owen McCall is CIO of The Warehouse. You can reach him at and through his blog

Join the CIO New Zealand group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags leadershipinnovationCIO roleDan Carter

Show Comments