Why You Should Take Your Eye Off The Ball

Many of us become so focused and determined to reach a goal, that we create tunnel vision in our relentless pursuit of the end result. We know what we want to achieve and obsessively follow the steps that we believe are necessary to get there.

And this system works…to a point. This single-minded approach is often highly productive and reliable. Grit and drive will generate consistent results, and are two of the most important qualities for success.

But they don’t necessarily yield breakthrough innovation or creativity.

Take those qualities and add a willingness to explore things off of the expected path, and you have a formula that can produce greatness.

This is a concept that best-selling author Frans Johansson writes about in his book, The Click Moment, which is about seizing opportunity in an unpredictable world. Johansson says, “You need to take time, even schedule time, to explore things that are not directly related to your immediate goal. You need to take your eyes off the ball in order to see and connect the possibilities around you.”

One of the examples Johansson uses is Howard Schultz, who traveled to Italy in 1983 to attend an international housewares show to look at kitchen appliances, coffeemakers, and other items with the intention of bringing them back to Starbucks stores in the US (Schultz at the time was Starbucks Director of Retail Operations and Marketing). Starbucks was not selling coffee by the cup at the time, instead focusing on home-brewing equipment and specialty beans. But it was Schultz’s experience walking around Milan and stumbling upon the city’s popular espresso bars (including the friendly baristas, opera music, comfortable chairs, and café lattes) that gave him the “aha” realization that coffee was meant to be communal and social, enjoyed in a friendly and public atmosphere. “It was like an epiphany,” Schultz said.

Schultz, now Starbucks Chairman and CEO, brought this communal coffee concept back to the U.S. and, needless to say, revolutionized his company and the entire coffee-drinking culture in America.

Just imagine if Schultz had stayed focused on the housewares convention and not explored Milan.

Johansson says that if we always keep our eyes on the ball, we lose the ability to notice what’s around us, and miss the opportunity to make surprising connections. As he says, “We are conditioned to focus on the business at hand. There’s something satisfying about predictable, steady progress. But this approach makes it difficult to expose ourselves to the unplanned moments that enable us to uncover the ideas and opportunities that others have not.”

Here are some tactics that Johansson recommends to create and capitalize on moments of deliberate randomness:

  • Schedule time to do something unscripted or unplanned (this requires leaving some flexibility in your schedule and not packing it with meetings)
  • Explore and search for inspiration in fields, industries, and cultures different from your own
  • Create diverse working teams (across functions, backgrounds, cultures, genders, ethnicities, ages, interests, levels in the organization, etc.)
  • Organize social events
  • Attend conferences, lectures, museums, and shows not directly related to your field
  • Read 5 magazines you have never read before (and are not directly tied to your business)
  • Take a day off
  • Listen to and follow your curiosity

Some of this might seem like a waste of time and a distraction from the task at hand. And sometimes that’s right. In fact, most people probably think this way. But that’s also why you can have a competitive advantage by taking your eye off the ball.

So change it up, give yourself a break, and you might just put yourself in the position to create unexpected and game-changing discoveries.

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This story originally appeared in The Huffington Post

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