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Focus: The Key To Success

A coworker and friend of mine, @drewhawkins, tweeted out a link to an article on why freakonomics trumps logic when it comes to marketing. For those of you unfamiliar with that term, freakonomics is essentially the law of unintended consequences. A broad definition, sure, but when applied to business it makes a lot of sense. A hypothetical example would be something like a high national crime rate being the result of McDonald’s releasing a new McFlurry flavor. Two seemingly unrelated things now have a relationship.

In short, the article linked above talks about how businesses that take the logical approach, like adding additional menu items (Burger King), to grow business actually end up diluting the market and result in a decrease in business. An illogical result, unless you use experiential logic to understand it.

What do I mean by experiential logic? It is a term that may very well exist and have a meaning but I’ve made up my own meaning for it right now. What I mean by experiential logic is: apply your own experiences to expectations instead of what typical practices call for. For a personal example…

When I have had a lot of work to do, and I mean A LOT, I get overwhelmed and try to finish everything at the same time. When I do this only two things can occur: 1) I will pull everything together very quickly, but not do as well as I could have on any single thing, or 2) I will jump around and finish nothing on time. So what’s the solution? Pick one thing. ONE. Get that done, and make it good. Then go on to the next thing and do that with the same quality. And so on.

Doing too much can only make a mess.

Now let’s back up and apply this to real businesses. The Burger King example from the AdAge article continued on and compared BK to Five Guys. BK tries to experiment with a ton of new menu items and their business decreases. Five Guys sticks to the nuts and bolts: burgers and fries, with some extras like grilled cheese and hot dogs. They don’t try to serve smoothies and salads. Five Guys’ business increases in the same time frame.

The second of two points I brought up in this post is something I’ve observed for a while now, and the AdAge article gives yet another point of view in support of it. If you try to make everyone happy, it’s going to hurt you in the long run. Let’s change that a bit for this example: Less is more. Yes, in this case that cliche works perfectly. Five Guys is a burger joint. And it embraces that. They aren’t adding menu items to feed people who want smoothies and salads. They are going to serve a small number of items, but makes sure those items are of a very high quality. And it helps them succeed.

Focus is what it comes down to. There is a limit to what you can focus on without it decreasing the quality of your work (or product, or business). Stick within your limits and you will succeed. The chances of failure doing what you do well (Burger King making burgers, for example) are slim. The chances of failure doing what you’ve never done to appease others (Burger King making…smoothies) are much higher. Become #1 in one thing before trying to be #1 in everything. Otherwise, you’ll never get there.



9 responses to “Focus: The Key To Success

  1. HarrisonPainter September 7, 2011 at 11:52 pm

    My Daddy pounded into my head; “You can make some of the people happy some of the time, but you can’t make all of the people happy all of the time.”. So true man, so true!

  2. HarrisonPainter September 7, 2011 at 11:52 pm

    My Daddy pounded into my head; “You can make some of the people happy some of the time, but you can’t make all of the people happy all of the time.”. So true man, so true!

  3. hanelly September 8, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    Great post, Josh. Adding options seems like the intuitive thing to do (i.e. more choices for people to make will lead to your product line appealing to more people which will in turn lead to more sales). But you’re right: it doesn’t work that way. Look at Pat’s or Geno’s cheesesteaks in Philadelphia. Any given weekday around lunchtime you’ll see a line out the door for these places. They serve a very limited menu and there are plenty of other options for Philadelphians to eat but they kill it because they specialize in doing one thing extremely well. Don’t dilute your product line with extraneous options because people don’t want to have to do the extra work of thinking. 

    • Josh Milenthal September 8, 2011 at 2:51 pm

      Food establishments are probably the easiest to apply the “don’t dilute your market” rule to. But companies like Apple or many high end clothing companies also are great examples. They know what they are good at and get as close to perfecting their products as possible. Once they do that, they may branch out, but with only one or two additions (Apple did computers and iPods, then went to the iPhone, then the iPad).

      Companies that specialize have a knack for doing one, two, or maybe a few things extremely well, and they stick to it. That’s what makes them succeed.

  4. Drew Hawkins September 12, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    Less is definitely more in a lot of cases. Look at Apple – they have less features on their products but the features they have are so good you are okay with overlooking certain things. I’ve been reading “Switch” and they talk about a concept called ‘decision paralysis.’ If you present a consumer with too many options, they will most likely be overwhelmed mentally with the options that they don’t even make a decision. It’s an interesting concept that can be applied in a lot of places. 

    • Josh Milenthal September 12, 2011 at 1:35 pm

      Decision paralysis is a really good example. I learned about it in a consumer behavior class in college and forgot about it already…thanks for bringing it up. Companies that try to put too much in front of the customer also don’t have faith in their own core products. If you’re Burger King, shouldn’t you be able to succeed selling quality burgers? They obviously don’t think so…and it hurts them. A lack of confidence in your own offerings certainly won’t help you.

  5. lucychen October 26, 2011 at 9:52 pm

    I agree with the poster,I ‘ll support your idea.


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  6. lucychen October 26, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    I agree with you.

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