It is tempting to load up our lives with commitments and projects. This allows us to express our many ambitious aims. It feels like we are being creative, and prolific, and alive.
A few years ago, when I was leading a team, running a business, writing a book, keynoting at conferences, yada, yada, I embodied this. If you asked me then, I would have argued with you why this made sense; why, just over the horizon, I could, finally, focus. I argued this for years. Focus was for later, after I had success. I was doing many things in the hope something (actually, more like ANYTHING!) would stick and lead to the big outcome I was seeking. I equated doing many things, to achieving big things.
I now realize I was pursuing the 1000 Flowers Blooming vs. Sequoia Strategy.
Now I find myself advising Shaherose Charania, the CEO and co-founder of Women 2.0 as she takes a similar path. And it is the path of so many entrepreneurs. And, so with her permission, I’m sharing the reasoning for the two strategies and where they yield.
Shaherose is reimagining the organization and the related spinoff organization, Founders Lab, to be a scalable, consequential venture that can make a meaningful difference for entrepreneurs, and the marketplace. That organization holds events, creates content, runs an incubator, etc. etc. And Shaherose is jack of all trades. She has a lot of talents and she gets called to use them all from running classes to raising venture money.
People like Shaherose – creative, entrepreneurial types – are flooded with good ideas. The question for her as well as for all of us is this: Given the many ways we can spend our energy, how do we get the biggest impact we want?
There are two approaches: Do many things. Do 1 thing and do it ridiculously well.Or as I like to think of it: 1000 flowers vs. Sequoias.
As we try to pursue many good ideas, our energy, enthusiasm, resources, network, and attention all dissipate. It’s like peanut butter – the more you spread it, the thinner and less tasty it becomes. The resulting effect doesn’t get a ‘nom-nom’ response, it gets more of a ‘meh’ response. The starting material was good but spread too thing, it doesn’t make an impact.
So it is with ideas also. Spreading the energy out over many ideas, as it turns out, will get many things to grow. But not 1 BIG thing. It’s the equivalent of 1,000 flowers blooming. (Which, admittedly is better than not doing anything…which if I try and carry this analogy out would be like having the fallow land with perhaps only the weeds flourishing. But fallow land is rarely the problem for creative types like Shaherose, or the readers of this blog)
The problem with the 1000 flowers blooming strategy is this: it is rarely seen from far way. If each of us want to build something big – something that be can spotted from miles away – something that will stand the test of time – then we have to stop doing everything. Instead, we have to pick 1 idea to pursue, one to which we can say HellYeah as Derek Sivers recommends, and focus. That’ll get us something more like a Sequoia tree – something that can withstand tough conditions, and grow taller than anything around them, to thrive beyond the immediate. In entrepreneurial language, it’s the business that scales beyond your individual energy as a leader. If you want the Sequoia, you’re going to have to pick that one seed and then give it the care and nurture it will need to grow. Focusing your enthusiasm, resources, network and attention to 1 thing will let you signal to everyone what matters to you, and what you could use help on. Having two or many things means people don’t know what matters to you and so can’t help. This limits the network effect.
The reason we don’t pick the sequoia seed? My sense is it because we don’t know which of these seeds we want most to grow. Or perhaps we don’t know which of these seeds before us could become big. Either way, are working from lack of clarity and lack of insight for ourselves, and most likely, the market. So we do the “easier” of the two strategies: pursue many things as a kind of “insurance” that at least there will be something to show for our hard work.
[NOTE: I can do a post in a few days of how to think about picking the Sequoia seed vs. the 1000 flowers strategy if you’d like. Sort of the personal version of MurderBoarding in business. Add a comment to me if you want that...and, what questions you have around this…]
- Shaherose Charania, CEO & Co-Founder Women 2.0, on Open Innovation European Solutions (thenextwomen.com)
- Kauffman Thoughtbook 2011 Now Available (kauffman.org)