About a month ago, our Irish Setter puppy Maddie arrived at the airport from an out-of-state breeder we like. Of course, the first thing we started teaching this little girl is where to do her business; they call that housebreaking, but puppies have a different idea when it comes to ‘houses’ and ‘breaking’. In teaching this essential lesson, there are just two things to cover. Where to go – out that door into the back yard, and when to go – whenever you have the urge. Part of the training involves taking Maddie outside when we know she needs to go. The problem isn’t that Maddie doesn’t know that she needs to go, but that she’s easily distracted: “ooh, a leaf – ooh, a stick – ooh that blade of grass is moving – ooh a dog barked 6 houses down – ooh…” It’s like when Peter and Brian trapped James Woods in Family guy and it makes us want to scream: “Focus Maddie, focus!”
Focus is such a strange word. We are trying to get Maddie to “focus on the task at hand” well, paw in this case but you know what I mean. That’s usually what people in business mean when they say “focus” and it’s one of the things that one of my old bosses means when he says “most people are incapable of focusing.” Focus for him was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, he would complain about his staff, me included, on occasion not being able to focus on the job that needed to be completed – the job that was billable – the job that would result in a deliverable. On the other hand, we made our living going into organizations where we were able to focus on the one thing that needed to be fixed. Our expertise was in the realm of solving “what’s wrong with this picture” type puzzles.
“Focus on the task at hand” stands in opposition to “focus on the big picture!” To wrap up one job, we had to focus on the remaining tasks, hopefully in order by priority. To keep the business growing, to have a next job, we needed to focus on the big picture. In photography, this is controlled by manipulating the depth-of-field. My daughter makes excellent use of depth-of-field in many of her photographs, and I am always impressed with the results she achieves. Of course, knowing how to manipulate the camera setting is only part of the battle. The more important thing is knowing when using the technique will result in a better photograph. She has an eye for that sort of thing. As for me, well I’m mostly using a point and shoot style camera these days, and controlling depth-of-field isn’t very easy, so we don’t need to go there.
Knowing that you need to sharpen or soften your focus or to change the object of your focus isn’t always enough. Two recent articles from the Connecticut sports world make this point for me.
Shortly after losing their 5th straight game, the University of Connecticut (UConn) football team’s acting coach (the head coach had been fired after losing 3 straight games) said:
“We’re going to come back and work. Nobody on this team is giving up. There’s going to be some good things that happen from a win standpoint. We just want it to be sooner than later. We still have a great sense of urgency. That’s what this game is — you’ve got to get refocused every week.“
They lost the next two games before facing arch-rival Louisville, a ranked team with a 7-1 record, the Hartford Courant recently reported that UConn coach T.J. Weist said:
“If we make more plays than them, then we win. That’s got to be our focus. You’ve got to use the hype, you’ve got to use that intensity, and use it on the football field to make good decisions, to be physical and to make plays.”
Apparently he didn’t watch the Steelers loose to New England earlier that same week. During that game, the Steelers made more plays and had possession of the ball for more time, but they lost 55-31. It’s not making more plays, it’s making more scoring plays that wins the game. This just in – Louisville won that game 31-10 and UConn is now 0-8. That’s the other hard thing about focusing; you have to know what to focus on.
When our daughter was in art school, I went on a couple photo-shoots with her. It sounds so cool to say “I’m going on a photo shoot.” Sometimes, Faith brought me along for company and sometimes she brought me along for protection. I would always take my camera and I would try to get some of the same photos she was taking. One of the times I was there for protection, we were in a bad neighborhood in a neighboring town. Faith wanted a picture of an abandoned warehouse, and you find those in bad neighborhoods. She took the picture shown here. Then, I stood where she stood, I aimed my camera where she had pointed hers, I took a picture of the same building. That’s when a friend of mine said “you take nice pictures, Faith takes photographs.”
I’m going out to rake up the remaining leaves in the yard. Maybe if I eliminate the distractions, it will help Maddie to focus.