I bet you didn't think of old Hank Thoreau as a management guru. Perhaps you know him better as "author, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, historian, and leading transcendentalist."
The sentiment above is a nice thought on focus. And that's how the quote is often used, including by yours truly. We love focus. Focus is important; you can't hit your targets without being able to sight them.
But focus is only half the story and quote (literally.) Thoreau's coda is "...therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high."
A romantic sentiment, beautifully expressed. But is Thoreau's quote espousing a good business principle? Is it the big picture that matters? Is vision is more important than accomplishment?
We've looked at the both the "vision thing" and "failure is the best path to success" before, and found a fixation on either, to the exclusion of the other, somewhat problematic.
Focus and vision are yin and yang if you are trying to make your business more than a job.
Here's a true story of a business solving its "growth" problem:
- They have a vision: to expand geographically and broaden the offerings of their commercial services business.
- The owner feels stuck and wants to get out of the field, where he spends too much of his time (working in his business rather than on it). But he but has failed in several attempts to get his field staff to "step up."
- A lack of vision is not the problem, he's missing the appropriate strategic and tactical approach to define and solve his problem.
- In this case, investment in a qualified "replacement" for the boss in the field is the Critical Success Factor, that will allow the owner to achieve his vision: growth and more freedom from the day-to-day.
- His success will be driven by execution: implementation of a formal time management and job-costing system, which will provide the (now missing) data and processes needed to direct strategic growth and increase profitability.
The cold, hard unromantic truth is that vision carries you only part way to any goal. The rest is nitty-gritty: the ability to execute based on solid strategies. Our friend Henry David was a better philosopher than businessman. Good thing he stuck with his day job.