EDITOR'S NOTES - by Diane W. Collins

Keeping the Focus: How "Great Ideas" Can Distract, Detract and Derail You
by Diane W. Collins

The Internet reminds me of a statement a friend made to me when I first moved to California in the early 1980's. I asked him what he considered to be the best and worst thing about the environment in which we worked and lived. He just smiled and said, "So many women...so little time!" Recently, I was reminded how the Internet offers the same type of allure to those of us who work within this medium and deal in the commodity of "ideas."

It is difficult to stay focused when you are surrounded by a constantly changing world of fascinating ideas, especially when projects propelled by those ideas move and change at light speed. How do you determine the direction your company should follow? When will an idea add to the mix? When will it distract, detract and derail your efforts?

I was encouraged during the week to define how one might discern those qualities in an idea. This occurred while speaking with a highly celebrated Internet marketing specialist, who is soon to become a member of our Board of Advisers. I was giving him an animated presentation on a side-project that seemed to fit seamlessly into our overall business plan. He listened patiently and when I was finished simply said, "Did something change?" I told him that I wasn't quite sure as to what he meant. He asked, " Did something within our existing business plan fundamentally change?" He went on to remind me of the innumerable avenues the Internet offers as distraction...even in projects that appear to be a perfect integration. He added that unless something had fundamentally changed within our plan, we needed to stay focused.

Staying focused means keeping a vigilant eye on your objectives, resources and timing to ensure that additional projects add to the mix... not detract, distract and derail. Okay, that sounds great. But how do you make that determination in a sea of fantastic possibilities? The answer lies in requiring that a prospective idea or project meet all of the characteristics of focus ...not just one. Those characteristics are your current objectives, resources and timing. Sometimes a prospective project fits one or two of these traits and massacres another.

Here's an example. Let's say you want to co-brand a product with another company. Their target market fits your objective. Co-branding would save you the expense of personally developing your company reach into that target market. The deal requires a licensing agreement on your part with no additional commitment of human or financial resources beyond the licensing agreement. Perfect, right? Then you look at the timing. Your company plans to complete the first version of your product within a month. You wish to co-brand the product and introduce it to your partner's market segment within thirty days of completion. During negotiations you discover your potential partner is about to sign a merger agreement! The merger inadvertently opens a three to six month product release window and adds a new timing variable. Unfortunately, this incongruous timing would allow your competition the ablity to finish development of a similar product and capture initial market share as sole provider. You lose the edge. At first glance, co-branding would have been a brilliant idea. It matched your objectives and resources. In the final analysis, however, the timing would have derailed your new product launch.

The excitement and the pace of our industry at times causes us to shift the focus off the big picture. Projects are "perfect" and ideas are "great" when they fit all the characteristics of your company focus as defined by your business plan. That means your objectives, resources and timing. Unless, of course, "...something has fundamentally changed."

FEBRUARY 24, 1999



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