My 8 year old asked me this recently, and it gave me a great analogy which I have used to good effect in workshops and seminars. It’s a nice illustration of the Gazing Principle that underpins my Performance Improvement work with customers. I love it when kids ask these profound questions.
The simple answer is that like most drivers, I look in a number of places: the dials on the dashboard, the mirrors, either side of the road (to look out for pedestrians, animals, branches etc.) and sometimes at the sky to see weather conditions. But most of the time of course, it’s at the road or vehicle in front. I imagine most of us would answer similarly.
But the important thing here is that consciously or sub-consciously we choose where we put our gaze (or, you could say, where we focus our attention). And when the pressure is on, if for example we need to brake or take urgent action, our gaze becomes all the more focused on the particular thing in hand. Good drivers (and in extreme cases, racing drivers) have become expert at this control of attention.
How does this help us in business? Well, if we want to perform effectively in business, or any other walk of life, our ability to control our attention is paramount. Just like the driver whose attention is more on the road ahead than anywhere else, so our attention in the world of work is probably generally focused on the day to day tasks in hand. And quite right too. And if we can avoid distractions and truly focus on those tasks then the chances are we will deal with them more efficiently. (The flip side is being interrupted every time our mail box pings.)
But equally, if we solely focus on those tasks, we become the equivalent of the driver hogging the middle lane of the motorway – glued to the road ahead and unaware of the traffic building up behind them, or perhaps the ambulance trying to get past. Top performers choose where and when to focus their attention, stepping back to see the big picture, taking stock, planning what the next few months look like, and then returning to the task in hand. For them it’s a deliberate choice, especially when the heat is on.