Narrow, Deep Focus Lead to Better Outcomes

stay_focused_by_babiefortin1-620x345Younger, I had a lot of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). I wanted to try most everything and be good at many things. Such youthful ambitions gave me good experiences to find my strengths as well as recognize my weaknesses. Now as a more experienced person, I’m much more focused on just a few things, but at a much deeper level. Working on my seventh startup, I now value people with very specialized skills over the generalists. This wasn’t always the case. In my previous startups, I had preferred generalists who would be willing to do “anything”. After all, entrepreneurs themselves are generally required to wear different hats in building a new company. However, in forming a capable team, experience has taught me that deep expertise in specific areas makes much bigger impact. For example, a general sales person, who wants to try different things, is unlikely to push a company’s sales capabilities beyond picking off “low lying fruits”. On the other hand, a sales person with deep understanding of a specific vertical industry, or someone with a passion for working on a specific stage of the sales funnel (i.e. top of the funnel) are both capable of making a lasting and deep impact for the business. In interviewing candidates, I look for persons who by nature want to get deep into a topic and has the propensity for singular focus. In the field of data science, a generalist adds only a swallow amount of value without actual business knowledge and experience. Once that data scientist becomes a domain expert with a specific business use case like fraud detection, e-commerce customer churn prediction models, or regression models for predictive revenue forecasts, she/he becomes much more valuable. Warren Buffett advises to make a list of the 25 things you want to accomplish in life, then focus only on the top five, forgetting the rest. He says that the rest are just dangerous distractions. When Bill Gates was asked what the one thing he would tell his younger self about hiring, he said “that he wished he had hired more people with a narrow but profound knowledge of a certain subject, like sales management. He thought he’d be able to handle something like that himself, but he was wrong.” I think this same concept of narrower and deeper focus helps in other facets of life as well. I’ve purposely narrowed down my hobbies. This has led to more satisfying outcomes, whether learning new languages, playing more golf or spending quality time with select friends.