Put your nose to the grindstone. Keep your eye on the ball. Have tunnel vision. Push to the finish line.
Most of us have been hearing these supposed maxims of success since the first day of kindergarten. In short, they all boil down to the same message: If you want to make it, you've got to stay focused.
While identifying a goal and pursuing it at the expense of all else has its benefits in certain scenarios (getting a raise, securing the corner office), the world's most successful entrepreneurs and business owners approach their work quite differently. In fact, those who hit it really really big not only lose focus; they actually harness their distractibility to generate big results.
Distraction leads to profitable cross-pollination.
A major reason creative and entrepreneurial people are so easily distracted is that they are naturally curious. New ideas offer an allure they find impossible to resist. Their interests are often varied, falling well outside the realm of their industry.
Yet instead of trying to refocus on whatever they should be paying attention to, insanely successful people follow their fascinations, and their main businesses benefit like crazy.
Take the ultimate example of the insanely successful entrepreneur--Steve Jobs. The Apple founder was fond of talking about how, as a college dropout, he finally had the freedom to take only classes that interested him. One of these was a course in calligraphy, which at the time seemed to have no practical benefit whatsoever. In retrospect, however, his unorthodox detour was the reason we now have word processors that can produce fonts as beautiful as any traditionally typeset book of yesteryear.
The opportunity of a lifetime
While losing focus can have fantastic benefits for your core business, there's another reason that being too disciplined in your thinking can be a curse.
They say love is blind, and that's particularly true for small business owners. After investing so much time and money into an idea, it is difficult to recognize a better opportunity somewhere else. However, it's often those opportunities at the margins that end up holding the key to real fame and fortune: the side effect of your new pharmaceutical, the fun media project that uses the new technology you've spent years developing, the frivolous use for that oh-so-serious chemical compound. Finding these esoteric opportunities requires taking your eye off the ball.
There's no doubt persistence is an essential ingredient to effective entrepreneurship. Just make sure you let your focus keep you from noticing and acting on the opportunity of a lifetime.