The Power of Focus

The Power of Focus

Concentrate your energies, your thoughts, and your capital. The wise man puts all his eggs in one basket and watches the basket.

Andrew Carnegie

The benefits of focus are many. If you want to excel in a specific area, just do it—and do a lot of it. There’s truth to the old saying, “practice makes perfect.” Whatever your chosen specialty, depth of experience is what will make you better at it. It will also make you more efficient—and therefore more profitable. And by choosing a specialty area that you enjoy, your own sense of satisfaction will be increased. You’ll be adding more value for your clients and, as a result, creating more wealth for yourself.

The division of labor is a cornerstone of business theory. Many of the advances in emerging economies that are taking place today are based on these fundamental ideas. These concepts go back to the earliest days of manufacturing. I am including here the story of the Pin Factory from Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. This is a wonderful illustration of the potential of specialization and division of labor—in other words, the power of focus!

To take an example, therefore, from a very trifling manufacture, the trade of the pin-maker; a workman not educated to this business, nor acquainted with the use of the machinery employed in it, could scarce, perhaps, with his utmost industry, make one pin in a day, and certainly could not make twenty. But in the way in which this business is now carried on, not only the whole work is a peculiar trade, but it is divided into a number of branches, of which the greater part are likewise peculiar trades. One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head; to make the head requires two or three distinct operations; to put it on, is a peculiar business, to whiten the pins is another; it is even a trade by itself to put them into the paper; and the important business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about eighteen distinct operations, which, in some manufactories, are all performed by distinct hands, though in others the same man will sometimes perform two or three of them. I have seen a small manufactory of this kind where ten men only were employed, and where some of them consequently performed two or three distinct operations. But though they were very poor, and therefore but indifferently accommodated with the necessary machinery, they could, when they exerted themselves, make among them about twelve pounds of pins in a day. There are in a pound upwards of four thousand pins of a middling size. Those ten persons, therefore, could make among them upwards of forty-eight thousand pins in a day. Each person, therefore, making a tenth part of forty-eight thousand pins, might be considered as making four thousand eight hundred pins in a day. But if they had all wrought separately and independently, and without any of them having been educated to this peculiar business, they certainly could not each of them have made twenty, perhaps not one pin in a day; that is, certainly, not the two hundred and fortieth, perhaps not the four thousand eight hundredth part of what they are at present capable of performing, in consequence of a proper division and combination of their different operations.

The present-day payroll companies are a great example of successfully focused businesses. The accuracy, efficiency, and economy provided by large payroll providers are very impressive. It’s difficult to compete with these operators. They’ve found their niche and mastered the art of it, to the benefit of their clients and their corporate balance sheet.

I have participated in selling off various sub-specialty pieces of practices. One owner, intent on focusing on his audit practice, sold the tax portion of his business. Years after the sale, I learned that his firm had experienced tremendous growth. He was working fewer hours annually and achieving much higher margins than he had when he was practicing in both areas of tax and audit. Just as importantly, he was experiencing greater satisfaction in his work—an intangible gift that usually comes with knowing that you are very good at what you do. I have had numerous owners who sold their tax business to focus strictly on financial planning report similar results.

The key is to first determine what aspects of your professional practice you most enjoy. Secondly, identify what you’re particularly good at doing. Here’s a hint: the two will generally go hand-in-hand. Pick an area that you are comfortable with and stick to it. Eliminate services that are not part of your practice’s core competency. Now, focus.


The Power of Focus is an excerpt from our book Accountant’s Flight Plan. Click here to learn more about the book including a link to order a copy.

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