social entrepreneurship tool

Social Entrepreneurship #1 Tool Video

Social Entrepreneurship #1 Tool Transcript

This is the 2nd post in a series of posts with our absolute best advice for social entrepreneurs.  This one is our #1 tool recommendation but before we jump in, I want to give you some background.

Too Many Options Disorder

I went to a liberal arts college.  I went there for the liberal arts curriculum.  I didn’t have to declare my major until my 3rd year.  Even then, I chose by putting a list of all possible majors on my wall and slowly crossing off the ones I didn’t want to do.  No sciences because I didn’t want to work in a lab.  No languages because I’m not good at anything but English.  And so forth.  I whittled it down to 5 choices and couldn’t decide. 

I ended up choosing Psychology because it had the fewest requirements so I could still take a lot of other classes.  I ended up minoring in music because I took enough music classes.  I believe any of those final 5 choices would have been good for me but I was forced to make a decision so I did.  Then, I stuck with it without wavering once.

We live in a world with too many options.  Often, too many options is paralyzing.  I call it “Too Many Options Disorder.”  We either (a) don’t make a decision because we can’t choose from all the options out there or, more common for entrepreneurs, (b) we try to do too many things because we’re not sure which one to choose.  In the college major situation, consider how many people double major or get multiple master’s degrees.  In a business setting, trying to do too many things hinders our success and can cause burnout.

This is the lesson for Social Entrepreneurship:

You are going to come up with or come across so many ideas and options for your business.  Yet, there are only a few that are worth pursuing.  There are only a few that will actually work for you.

Now we’re ready for the Social Entrepreneurship #1 Tool:

FOCUS.  You might imagine from my intro story that focus doesn’t come easy for me.  Your imagination is accurate.  Over the last 6 plus years of building a business, I’ve definitely discovered focus has tremendous value and I have developed quite a mastery of it as a tool.

Don’t take my word for the importance of focus.  Here’s what Steve Jobs had to say on the topic:

”People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” (Apple Worldwide Developers’ Conference, 1997)

How do you develop focus?  How do you decide the 1,000 things to say no to?  How do you get focus out of the toolbox and become a master at using it in your social enterprise?

Here’s an exercise you might find helpful.

Step A. Write down all your ideas, either that you have generated or have come across.

Step B. Cross off ones that immediately seem less than worthy of doing.

Step C. Then, continuing crossing them off until you’re left with 20% or less.  You might also see that some ideas are the same as others or could be combined with them.  That’s good.  Cross off or consolidate until you reach that 20%.

Step D. Finally, make your best choice of the single* best option from where you stand today.

Step E. Commit to sticking with it for a specific amount of time.  I suggest 1 year at minimum.

Step F. The key is to absolutely decline any and all of the other items on your list.

At the end of the time period and only then, you can come back to the ideas and try something different.  That is, if you want or need to do so.  If you truly stick with your best idea, you’ll probably find that you made a good choice and won’t need those other ideas.

There are 3 practical times to do this kind of exercise:

  1. Annual Reviews: For our social enterprise, we’re usually going through this process at year end.  We set an intentional focus for the year and go after it as hard as we can without letting anything else detract us.  Then, we evaluate at the end of the year and decide what to do next.  Over the course of a year, we come up with lots of ideas.  We shelve them and stay focused on our commitment.  Then, at the end of every year, we take all those off the shelf and figure out which 1 is best for the year to come.
  2. Business Planning or Development: When you are at a key turning point or startup point for your business, you will likely have lots of ideas about the path forward.  This exercise can help you get clarity on the main step to take in this season to move your business forward.  In this case, it might not take a full year to accomplish the 1 thing that’s most important.  Still commit to 1 thing at a time and don’t move on until that 1 thing is accomplished.
  3. Now: Most of us walk around with hundreds of ideas of things we’d like to do.  Entrepreneurs might have thousands.  With all these ideas at once, you are tremendously holding yourself back.  Don’t delay.  Even just completing Step A of the exercise can help bring clarity and ease your mind of all these ideas floating around.

Like this topic? 

Think you might want to go further?  I invite you to check out our upcoming workshop on May 9 at Catalyst Ranch in Chicago.  We’ll be teaching a step-by-step method for developing your life around your focus and getting that 1 thing done faster than you think.  Please join us for Personal and Professional Productivity in the Digital Age.  Register here or below.

*Single is important here.  Focus connotes the idea of 1.  If that seems way too hard, I give you permission to choose 3 at most but try your best to pick 1 and only 1.  You’ll thank yourself for it later.