December 31, 2005

When Should CEOs Focus?

Posted in CEO, Execution, management at 3:21 pm by scottmaxwell

I wrote a recent post on the benefit and practices of focus, but wrote more about how to focus than when to focus. The chart below (of a successful product/company) is meant to expand on that post by showing the stage aspects of focus. Generally, prior to starting a company, and during the initial stages of determining exactly what you are trying to achieve in your product market, you will have a relatively broad scope (so that you can understand the landscape of the various product markets that you are considering as well as the technologies and distribution models that you might deploy). Once you nail down what you are trying to accomplish, you should move rapidly to a pinpoint focus on executing against your goals (i.e., keep your head down and execute). Extra thinking outside of your extreme focus will slow you down, perhaps considerably. As you begin to complete the product and get a few paying customers, you can expand the focus slightly. Finally, as you move up the S-curve for your product, you will need to once again expand the scope of your focus to better understand the market opportunities for continued expansion.


Three possible traps…

There are three possible traps that you can fall into if you are not careful:

  1. You do not have a broad enough scope before you are clear on what you are trying to achieve. Thoroughly understanding the product market, competitors, technologies, and your capabilities is important to determining where and how you want to play in the market and should give you a greater probability of success.
  2. You do not narrow the scope dramatically once it is clear what you are trying to do. Like focussing the sun energy through a magnifying glass, the right focus will lead to execution and lack of focus will lead nowhere.
  3. You do not broaden the focus once you nail your product market. While this is much less critical than the first two points (I almost left it off the list), you will probably want to continue growing and will need to start looking for new opportunities. (better to err on the side of being late with this point.)

Most emerging growth company CEOs fall into the second trap at some point, so take a careful inventory of your how you spend your time and what you think about…you may be in this trap right now!

Finally, as companies get larger and the company enters multiple product markets, this graph is still valid for the individual unit management. From the CEO perspective, these multiple graphs get superimposed and the CEO’s role naturally gravitates toward the broader scope.



  1. Scott, I think this is a great post because it is very practical.

    The graph perfectly describes the issues we are dealing with at momemnt.

  2. Leigh said,

    As companies grow, and they start to expand their focus and gravitate to broader scope, there is the real and often present danger that the end up with a bunch of really amazing individual products without any clear understanding of the interrelationship/interdependence of the products. Once this has happened, even high powered brand consultants and advertising agencies won’t be able to stitch it all together without it looking like an old Corporate patchwork quilt. So, you may not know where you are going to end up but you should know at least why you are taking each step and have your brand compass with you at all times.

  3. […] in Execution at 5:14 pm by scottmaxwell I have written several times about the need for focus. ( Here, for example.) Since writing on the topic, I continue to notice that most people I meet need this […]

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