Prism or Laser? (#109)

Understanding the fundamental difference between a prism and a laser can predict success in life and business.

Allow me to explain.

A laser takes light and amplifies it, turning it into a powerful, focused force. It creates heat.

By contrast, a prism refracts light and disperses it into several different color streams that lack any heat or power.

I can’t think of a better analogy to describe different people’s approaches to life and achievement.

A great example of this is what I will call the “prism entrepreneur,” who, for conceptual purposes only, we will refer to as Paul.

I have met a lot of Paul’s over the years. After some early success in his business, Paul gets over-confident and distracted. He starts doing a lot of new and different things and gets excited about starting (not finishing) new projects and businesses. His thought process is that, by putting a lot of his time into more things and dispersing his energy, he’ll be more successful.

Here’s the rub with this approach. If I check back with Paul 6-12 months later, he’ll most likely have started losing (or lost) focus, his initial business will have hit an “unexpected” rough patch and the new projects/businesses that he started are either in trouble or shuttered.

Are there exceptions to this? Sure. But more often than not, this is the typical trajectory.

Prism entrepreneurs like Paul are often doing a lot, but are not getting a lot done. While it can feel rewarding in the moment, they are riding the hamster wheel. I speak from experience as I’ve been Paul many times in my career. I have learned through repeated failure, however, that doing more has almost never worked. From my experience, better outcomes occur by stepping back, doing less and simplifying my life or business.

On the flip side is the “laser entrepreneur,” who we will call Lisa. Lisa is focused, has a plan and, upon seeing early success, she does not deviate course or get distracted. When Lisa sees that her plan is working, she doubles down on her current strategy, stays the course and focuses on excellence and being the leader in her market.

She eliminates distractions and stops doing things that don’t support her goals or values. Almost always, she achieves success faster than she could have imagined.

I think many of us tend to get enamored with the Paul’s. Our perception is that people who do a lot, renaissance men/women if you will, are more successful. The reality is that most of the data and real- world experience shows the opposite.

We only have so much time and energy to give. As such, applying it in a focused way produces better results. What might confuse us, however, is that there are many people who look like Paul’s, but are really Lisa’s. They have a carefully selected portfolio of business, interests or activities that support the same long-term goals and values. And not only do they reinforce each other congruously, there’s often a multiplier effect.

2018 is well under way. As you head into a new month of a new year, it’s time to decide… do you want to be a Lisa or a Paul?

Taking that a step further, it’s also the time to identify the Lisa’s and Paul’s in your teams and in your life.

The best advice I would give anyone is, pick a direction or focus, simplify and eliminate distractions. Don’t let everyone else’s priorities or distractions become yours.

Quote of the Week

“I don’t care how much power, brilliance or energy you have, if you don’t harness it and focus it on a specific target, and hold it there you’re never going to accomplish as much as your ability warrants.”

Zig Ziglar


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  1. Mindy Davis February 2, 2018 at 8:18 am

    As always a great article! Along the same theme, identifying a word to tie your goals and focus together for the year can be helpful too. It helps simplify your focus. For 2018 my word is Elevate. To me it ties into delegating or increasing the stop-doing list, focusing on the areas where I naturally can have the biggest impact and also get the most joy, and staying focused on a few big goals that will make the biggest impact. To your point, that means saying no to a lot. I find brainstorming ahead the things that are going to distract helps me be more aware of them when they show up too. Thanks for a great article!

  2. Chris McIntire November 13, 2018 at 8:47 pm

    Robert, was looking for good verbiage for the benefits of a laser like focus and found your article here with the added contrast of a prism focus and really appreciated your perspective on this. The idea of laser focus is an easy one, the ability to communicate that elegantly with some great contrast is a great skill. I can tell you spent some good time on this – well done. thank you for sharing your thoughts as it will help me share mine now also. I would ask for your permission to share your illustration and will be happy to give credit/reference to you.
    please let me know if this is acceptable.
    thanks, Chris


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