The good and bad sides of single-mindedness.

Ours was a great idea. As residents and business owners in the Caribbean we had identified a niche market and determined to fill it. We formed a business partnership for a small manufacturing company. For a short time it went ok. Then we processed our first large order and delivered the product.

The client telephoned asking me to come and look at what had been delivered. I was the salesman for the company. My partner was in charge of production. I went out to the jobsite to inspect the product.

It was not good.

I brought back one piece to show my partner and the production team. I sat it on a bench and gathered them around. Then came the first hint of trouble.

“What’s wrong with it?” asked the man who made the product.

“If you can’t see what’s wrong with it, that’s the first and biggest problem.” I replied.

Then my partner, the man in charge of production, nailed the lid on the coffin. “We can’t make them any better,” he claimed.

“Then,” I replied. “We cannot be in this business.”

What I “saw” for the company in terms of quality and service, was not what the others saw. They were content to produce products of below-average quality. I was not.

Within 4 months I had sold my interest and left the company because there was no path to resolving our differences. Those differences were not procedural although procedures were affected. They were not material, although the use of materials was affected. They were visual on more than one level but they all connect to and fit within the concept and practice of vision for a company.

I had one vision, my partner had another. When there are two visions, di-vision exists and trouble will follow, probably even ruin. To justify this, that company has lapsed into bankruptcy and is no more. Why? I’m sure you’ve guessed it. Not only could they not produce quality products delivered on time and on budget, they didn’t even see the imperative to do so.

I started another company manufacturing different products which became the third largest in the Caribbean. My former company is gone.

Vision is a beckoning target of how things should be. Although the “vision” is “out there” it affects what happens right here, right now. Vision inspires values, intentions, attitudes, and consequential actions. It readily translates into moment by moment activities which determine the ultimate.

So, single-mindedness is a critical feature of a company’s vision. To use the vernacular, everyone must be on the same page. There may be differences in method but all activities, all personnel, all processes can be and must be evaluated in light of what it is you are ultimately aiming for.

Single-mindedness manifests itself in good forms and bad forms.

Good forms of single-mindedness

  1. Focus. Settle now what ultimately must be realized. Read Lowe’s vision statement again – “We will provide customer-valued solutions with the best prices, products, and services to make Lowe’s the first choice for home improvement.”  Then never lose sight of it. Ever and always remind everyone that this is what the company or organization is in business for.
  2. Block out distractions. When you’re up to your armpits in alligators it is easy to forget that you set out to drain the swamp. There will be challenges, distractions, and detractors. See # 1 again, focus.
  3. Block out opportunities that do not fit the vision and/or do not fit your skill set. AMC, the sporting goods company, got into trouble a few years ago when it bought Harley Davidson Motorcycles. AMC knew nothing about motorcycles and brought that ignorance into the company with disastrous results.

Bad forms of single-mindedness

  1. Inability to hear what others are saying. You may be the one at the top, but there are lots of others who make your vision reality. Too many leaders are gifted with immaculate perception, the conviction that their ideas are divinely inspired and above question. Single-mindedness does not imply that you talk and everyone else listens. You need others to extend your reach, multiply your effectiveness, and divide your work.
  2. Over-preoccupation with the job/task/business so that people become objects, tools, and devices in pursuit of the goal. No one, I mean no one, will have the commitment to your business like its founder and it is foolish to think they should. If you make your company, organization, or department the sole focus of life and living, you are doomed to loneliness and isolation. You may feel that is fine now, but I guarantee you will think differently soon.

Are you certain that the vision you’ve defined and articulated is understood…and agreed…by everyone in your company or organization? If not, what needs to be done to bring everyone on board? Do not ignore this. Do not think it will work itself out. It almost never does. It almost always gets worse.  Fix it now. The longer it goes unresolved, the greater the schism.


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