Part 1 of What a Go-To Does Differently: Maniacal Focus

This is the beginning of a multi-part series to talk about what a Go-To does differently from the me-too pack. Firms that achieve Go-To status in their chosen markets follow a particular set of strategies that me-toos typically don’t. Let’s look at the first thing a Go-To does differently and how entities like Intel, Lego and the Apollo Space Program put it into action.

A Go-To Has Maniacal Focus

A Go-To focuses on a specific market that is large enough to provide opportunity but specific enough to allow the company to concentrate its finite resources in order to capitalize on synergies. Focus is not “a” way to gain market traction but “the” way.  Andy Grove, the longtime Intel CEO who transformed the company from a me-too chip manufacturer into an innovative Go-To for microprocessors, had this to say in his book, Only the Paranoid Survive:

A question that often comes up at times of strategic transformation is, should you pursue a highly focused approach, betting everything on one strategic goal, or should you hedge?…I tend to believe Mark Twain hit it on the head when he said, ‘Put all of your eggs in one basket and WATCH THAT BASKET.’  It’s harder to be the best of class in several fields than in just one…Hedging is expensive and dilutes commitment. Without exquisite focus, the resources and energy of the organization will be spread a mile wide—and they will be an inch deep.

— Andy Grove

How Focus Won the Cold-War Space Race Against the Russians

Having the honor of sitting next to Apollo astronaut Dick Gordon at a business dinner some years ago, I asked him for the most significant lesson learned from the Apollo Space Program. “The power of focus,” he said. “Anything is possible when you have a very clear desired outcome shared by everyone and around which all action revolves. In our case, it was the moon.”

apollo-program-cost-go-to-moonHe explained that prior to Apollo, the United States (representing the free world at that time) was losing the space race to its Cold War opponent, the former Soviet Union. U.S. space exploration consisted of a hodge-podge of initiatives, none of which worked together. There were numerous independent projects in progress, spread among multiple government agencies and contractors, involving thousands of people and investments of billions of dollars per year.

“The only driving theme was speed, to be the first at something, anything,” Gordon said. “All of that time and money was being expended while the Soviets kicked our butts with one historical achievement after another.”

In his bid to win the Space Race of the 1950s and 1960s, John F. Kennedy didn’t go broader, he went narrower. He said, “…I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” With those four words, “man on the moon,” he instantly focused the resources of all involved in the space program on one specific goal, one specific domain.

He didn’t do it quietly either. He launched it with a grand gesture in the most public way possible. He made a historic speech to Congress on May 25, 1961 that the entire world heard. He put a stake in the ground with a proud declaration of a singular goal. No one knew at the time how to do it; but if achieved, this feat clearly would establish the U.S. and the rest of the free world as the dominant force in space.

Sun Rays Vs. Laser Beams

img_3155The book, Focus: The Future of Your Company Depends On It, by legendary marketer, Al Ries, is now considered a marketing classic and makes a strong case for focus. It landed on my radar screen while reading an article years ago in Inc. Magazine about Bill Gross, the famed serial entrepreneur and founder of startup incubator, IdeaLab, in which he was extolling the virtues of focus, raving about how the book had changed his mind on the topic and also his fortunes. Here is an excerpt from the book’s introduction that sums it up:

The sun is a powerful source of energy. Every hour the sun washes the earth with billions of kilowatts of energy. Yet with a hat and some sunscreen you can bathe in the light of the sun for hours at a time with few ill effects.

A laser is a weak source of energy. A laser takes a few watts of energy and focuses them in a coherent stream of light. But with a laser you can drill a hole in a diamond or wipe out a cancer.

When you focus a company, you create the same effect. You create a powerful, laser-like ability to dominate a market. That’s what focusing is all about.

When a company becomes unfocused, it loses its power. It becomes a sun that dissipates its energy over too many products and too many markets.

— Al Ries

How Going “Back to the Brick” Saved Lego

In 2003-2004, Lego was in a state of crisis, with falling revenues following a long period of thinkstockphotos-178473803stagnation.  When new CEO Jorgen Vig Knudstorp came in, he declared Lego would go “back to the brick” by concentrating on core products and core customers. As detailed in the book, Brick by Brick, the company cut back on many of its brand extensions, cut the number of brick designs by 46%, and re-narrowed its market focus to kids ages five to nine. The next year, sales increased 12% and LEGO had come back from a $292 million loss in 2004 to a pre-tax profit of $117 million in 2005.

Recap: The Power of Concentration

Focus lets you concentrate your resources. It lets you concentrate your message, so that it speaks directly to your targets’ pain points and needs in their own language. It helps unqualified prospects self-select out, before they waste your precious selling energies. It tells employees what you don’t do, so they stay focused on the right priorities.

So make it your mantra: Focus, focus, focus.