… my grandfather taught me … “… the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”
Stephen Covey’s grandson
Well. This is about focus and decisions (because if you focus on the wrong decision you are in trouble).
Anyway. When I saw “… the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing” this morning I was reminded how much most of us, young & old, in business suck at this. Yet, it sounds so frickin’ simple … how could we all suck so much at this?
A couple thoughts on that:
– We get distracted.
– The main thing we select is not really the main thing.
Let’s be clear. The ‘main thing’ is the relationship between “what I elect to, or should, focus on” and actual ‘focus’, i.e., the decision and the commitment to the decision. If you get either side of this relationship wrong you may as well accept ‘non-success.’
Let me explain the two things.
While what I am now going to say sounds contrary to popular belief — I am not sure life and business is any more distracting now than it was years ago. The props may have changed but, in my view, distractions are distractions and all distractions of any size, quantity or quality are persistent sonuvabitches. In addition. It is this view, the traditionally historical strength of distractions to distract us, that drives my belief that anyone of any age sucks at the main thing remaining the main thing. Distractions test our commitment – at any age. And, frankly, I could argue that if you are so easily distracted than it CAN’T be your ‘main thing’.
For young people everything is typically incredibly overwhelming as it is, therefore, distractions can be a coping mechanism, i.e., relief from the overwhelming or a bad way of coping with overwhelming.
For older people, regardless of experience, it isn’t that things are overwhelming it’s just that you always know that no matter how much you do there is always more to do and that ‘more to do’ will always be there waiting. Therefore we older folk justify the distractions as ‘the main thing may have a deadline but it will not disappear simply because I may elect to ignore it for a minute or two.’
But. Here is the most persistent distraction in business – success in the present.
In a world which is constantly screaming “adapt, adapt, adapt’ it becomes incredibly easy to start the following success. And I mean INCREDIBLY EASY. Success is a seductive bastard. And far too often success in the present can look an awful lot like long term success.
All I can really say is that it is incredibly easy for anyone, at any experience level in business, to get distracted from the ‘main thing.
Not really the main thing.
Whew. Two aspects of this …
– the main thing based solely on ‘tangible’
– the main thing is a reflection of a created priority.
Lack of emotional investment.
In business, we are infamous for creating tangible milestones and objectives and in doing so we expect people to be emotionally invested in achieving that ‘main thing’ we need to do.
Uhm. In my mind that is like manufacturing passion or happiness. Here I suggest a dose of reality to business people: don’t try and manufacture emotional energy and accept some things just as they are. I can have milestones, objectives and success criteria, but they don’t have to be ‘the main thing we need to do.’ These are simply shit that needs to be done.
If something doesn’t have a purpose beyond some number objective it is extremely difficult to have a genuine emotional investment. I would actually suggest without emotional investment it really cannot be a ‘main thing.’
When you don’t know what you want to do or where you really want to go, inevitably, a priority is created to take the place of those things. That is a created priority.
I am not suggesting they aren’t useful and as transition ‘progress behavior motivators’ they can be excellent tools – but let’s not confuse them with ‘the main thing.’ Yet, we do confuse them again and again. Created main things, if you are not careful, are rabbit holes. You can follow a ‘created main thing’ as persistently & stubbornly as if it is a real main thing and end up in a really really bad place.
Managers in business are infamous for creating ‘main things’ . What these managers don’t realize is that their employees see right thru the created aspect.
This creates issues because while the ‘workers’ become cynical over having to invest energy on some created priority cloaked by some manager in “main thing prioritizing”, when things do not go as planned far too many times managers step back saying things like “I don’t have the right people to implement the important objectives” or the ones with good intentions focus on the wrong things like ‘I need to learn how to motivate my people’ . Not often enough do managers look in the mirror at the actual stimulus, or, this ‘main thing’ they’ve identified, and truly challenge whether it really is a ‘main thing’ rather than simply a business objective we need to attain for the good of the business.
Now. All that said. The ‘main thing’ this young man is referencing in the opening quote is his decision, as a Mormon; to go on a mission for two years despite the fact he is having a fabulous year as a wide receiver for the Utah football team.
There is an emotional investment.
It is not a created priority.
And while an incredibly powerful persistent distraction poked at him, he, well, remembered the main thing is the main thing.
In the end.
I admit. I came to admire Stephen Covey’s thinking late in Life. Maybe I just needed to mature intellectually to get the nuance of what he tried to tell us or maybe I just didn’t understand the ‘main things’ in business well enough. Regardless, in a different, but still good, way than Peter Drucker, Covey thinking makes for better business minds.
I know I certainly don’t have all the answers and that is why I read and think about words from Toffler, Drucker & Covey — more so than Godin and Gladwell. Business thinking, as well as any type of thinking, is hard work. Covey & the best business thinkers make you think … sometimes almost in such a complex nuanced way that it always seems like it is slightly out of your grasp. I could argue that we need to stop seeking answers and continue to persistently ask questions.
The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. A twisted but simply important thing to keep in mind.
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This post was previously published on Enlightened Conflict and is reprinted with permission of the author.
Photo courtesy Unsplash.