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Get focused on a Few Big Things

Sheena Iyengar (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2000) gave one group of shoppers a choice of six different jams, and another, a choice of 24 different ones. Both groups tasted about the same number.

30% of the first group bought a jar. Only 3% of the second group bought one.

The sheer breadth of choice for the second group led to their indecision, which led to their inaction.

In the opening article of this series, I talked about revisiting clients and hearing them talk about the exact same opportunities they spoke about months before, having made no meaningful progress in the interim. There are always lots of reasons given, but ultimately it’s the same as with jam: too much choice, leading to indecision and inaction.

There are lots of ways to grow your business, and that’s the problem: there's too much choice. With SMEs, the outcome is often “no choice” – all the ideas stay on the table, getting picked over in idle moments. With large corporations the opposite happens – when they can’t decide, they “buy them all”. SME boards rarely have a focused, written agenda for their growth priorities; large PLCs often have 20 or 30 priorities on theirs. The outcome is the same: none of the ideas get the commitment and focus they need to succeed. It really is as simple as this: pick a few ideas and seriously commit to making progress on them.

Prioritisation matrixSize vs Ease: Use a 2x2 grid like the one on the right. What’s the rough potential value of each idea, and how easy is it going to be to deliver from here? Anything in box 1 is top priority. Most people prioritise box 3 after that – the “easy wins”. Don’t. You’ll spend all your time on low value things and never crack the big ones. Instead, look at box 2.

Cost to Fail: Box 2 ideas are hard, which means there’s a good chance they’ll fail. The best way to approach ideas in box 2 is to pick the ones with the lowest “cost to fail” – which can you disprove quickly and without losing your shirt? If it works, brilliant: it’s in box 2 so it’s high value, right? If not, great: fail fast and move on to the next one.

BOTTOM LINE: A business can focus on around three to five growth opportunities at any one time. How focused is your agenda?

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