I was at one of those workshops today that preached the secrets of “The Secret”, with a few twists. I decided to go as an exercise in optimism. As a self-proclaimed cynical thinker, this was an especially big challenge to my world view. The workshop leader, Marcus, was funny, challenging and entertaining. While I can’t say that I was completely convinced, the experience did spark some serious thought.
Toward the end of the workshop, Marcus pointed out that the root of the word “decide” was the latin for “to kill”. In other words, when you decide to do one thing, you “kill” the choice to do something else. So, ever intrepid, I checked out the Oxford Reference Online. Decide means ‘to bring to a settlement’: from French décider, from Latin decidere ‘determine’, from de-‘off’ + caedere ‘cut’. (Source: “decide verb” The Oxford Dictionary of English (revised edition). Ed. Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson. Oxford University Press, 2005).
Decide is from the same family of words as suicide which means ‘to intentionally kill oneself:from modern Latin suicida ‘act of suicide’, suicidium ‘person who commits suicide’, from Latin sui ‘of oneself’ + caedere ‘kill’. (Source: “suicide noun” The Oxford Dictionary of English(revised edition). Ed. Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson. Oxford University Press, 2005).
This minor digression in the workshop started me thinking about many discussions I’ve been having recently with colleagues, students, clients and friends about strategy and focus. We resist the idea of strategic focus. It’s easier to move forward with a list of ten or twenty cool ideas than to do the hard work of deciding which one or two deserve our undivided attention, our true focus.
I’ve never been able to understand why that process is so difficult for us. I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to understand multi-tasking and what I affectionately call “Shiny Object Syndrome”. Marcus’ brief aside about the root of the word decide rang a bell. By deciding to focus on only one or two of our pet projects, it feels like we’ve “killed” our bright and shiny ideas. By limiting our options, we feel like we’ve given up precious flexibility.
But even in a world of abundance, we have limited cognitive ability. That is, each individual, each organization can only handle so many tasks, objectives or strategies. We trade off focus for flexibility. Of course, with flexibility comes the never ending juggling of projects, priorities and tasks and the reduced likelihood of accomplishing any of them. When we focus, we can achieve a lot, both individually and collaboratively and have the satisfaction accomplishment.