Focus on what IS working

Winemaking is an art. While technology has brought a lot of science to the process, ultimately, the winemaker is an artist, constantly tinkering, adjusting, and optimizing for quality. If wine making was purely science, anyone with money could buy a vineyard, wrap it with technology, and produce great wine. But, they can't. In fact, countless people have failed trying.

Winemakers accept what the earth gives them each year, and adjust accordingly. If it's colder than expected, they adjust their process, and perhaps produce less barrels. But, the barrels produced are the right quality. If the soil is different than expected, they adjust, perhaps resulting in a larger production than expected. They don't try to 'fix' the soil, they adjust to the soil. Said another way, they focus on what is working, as opposed to what is not. If they were preoccupied with all the problems, they could never produce greatness.

There is a disease in corporate America that is becoming more acute: it's the inclination to focus on what is not working. I suppose it's human nature to identify problems, solve those problems, and believe that it will lead to improved performance. But, is that truly the best use of finite resources?

I recently visited a large industrial company. Like any other company that builds real things, this company has many dimensions to its business: clients that buy the machines, suppliers of components, R&D, sales, marketing, information technology, etc. Tens of thousands of employees, in hundreds of countries...highly complex operation, in a dynamic and changing industry. They are obsessed with the things that aren't working.

From what I could tell, 80% of their time and attention goes into problems in the supply chain, issues with operating in a diverse set of companies, challenges of reducing IT costs, etc. Their mental capacity is funneled into things that aren't working.

If you contrast this with a much younger and smaller start up that I recently visited, the contrast is stark. If something it not working, the startup moves onto the next thing. They understand that time and mental capacity, as the only truly finite resources, are too valuable to spend on something that is not working. They get a better return on their time, by focusing on the things that ARE working.

Does this mean that larger enterprises can ignore their problems? No. By definition, does a startup have more flexibility in what they can focus on? Yes. That being said, if you find yourself spending 80%+ of your time on things that aren't working, you are destined for mediocrity.

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