8 Ways to Choose Wide over Narrow
Typical business wisdom says, narrow your focus. Successful organizations do a few things very well. Less is more, but not always.
4 perils of narrow:
- Shuts down rather than turns on.
- Closes off rather than opens up.
- Rejects rather than explores.
- Pulls back rather than reaches out.
Narrow establishes limits. Reject the perils of narrow. Go wide.
8 ways to go wide:
- Look toward people, not away. Narrow reflects arrogance and detachment.
- Move toward problems and challenges quickly and responsively. Jump in the mud optimistically.
- Release don’t restrict. Go narrow with what and wide with how. Patton said, “Don’t tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.”
- Do what you can with what you have. Limited resources invite protective attitudes. Protecting preserves the past but doesn’t build the future.
- Talk into not out of. Pursue yes. Saying no is the easy way out.
- “Do for one what you wish you could do for all,” Andy Stanley.
- Trust your strength. You’ll find a way.
- Act humanely. Acceptance isn’t approval. Narrow equates people with performance. Wide accepts people even when performance falls short.
Choosing wide over narrow, like other leadership principles, calls for wisdom and discretion.
Which “wide” principle most challenges you?
How can leaders choose wide and not become too thin?
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I think one of the best way to consistently choose wide is to trust yourself. You have made it to your position because of your skills, talents and ability to make good decisions. Trust your heart, mind, gut and team members. Always looking for new possibilities and opportunities in the people and materials that you already have available.
Thank you Martina… “look for possibilities and opportunities in the people” JUMPS off the page for me.
While thinking about wide vs. narrow it seems that wide is often a people thing where narrow is more about mission and vision.
Narrow may also be r/t perceived resource limitations (which rarely looks at the processes that suck up those resources and if they did look at those processes, they might uncover waste o’ those resources.)
I like your last question…how to choose wide and not go to thin. I think it comes to having a solid mission. If someone on my team comes in with an idea that is within the scope of our mission…we will explore it to the fullest. If it’s out of our scope, we will find an organization doing it, and ask if there is a way we can support them.
Eric, thanks for jumping in.
I like where you take us on this…be wide within narrow. … hmmm, someone should write a post.
Or do a webinar! 😉
I would go further as to ask, how does a leader fight fatigue in supporting activities that choose wide without going too thin? The fatigue really kicks in while you’re waiting to get to that solid mission. How do we fight through the fatigue to stay the course?
I think persistent fatigue is the signal to narrow the focus. There’s a good tired because we’re doing what we love. There’s a bad tired that comes from an inability to say no.
Hmmm…I find myself both nodding AND shaking my head at this one, Dan. My primary counsel to people is to narrow their focus, to something which can be a core strength and differentiator. On the other hand, there are situations where the marketplace (customers/clients) tell you what they really want from you, which may mean widening or evolving. Let’s fight this one out over a cup of coffee some day! ;>}
Thanks Steve. This one makes me shake my head too.
On a personal level opportunities for full-life seem to be associated with wide. I can talk myself out of helping someone or reaching into their life. I’m learning to go wide with people.
So many people went wide with me when I was young…they risked and reached out …
The trouble with wide is it’s inconvenient.
Forgive my rambling.
Good distinction, Dan – we should differentiate somewhat between our career approach, and our personal-life approach.
thanks for pushing and poking… cheers
I think it’s important to encourage people to keep a wide view in their careers, particularly early on. There is so much to be learned by moving across functions. I see many narrow their career scope and options to early.
Thank you Karin. Great add. I hadn’t even considered that one.
Actually, Karin, that’s a very good point. Unless someone has an outstandingly clear set of competencies and a very productive vision/direction early on, it’s best to do some experimenting.
Totally agree with Karin on this one. Working in Healthcare, we have many highly specialized jobs, but what we’re seeing is many of those folks learning new skills and becoming more valuable to the organization and thus more secure in thier job, a win/win. Works for us exec’s too. We recently lost an executive and rather than fill the position we divided up the responsibilities between the CFO and the CHRO (me) and we are both having a ball in our new roles – very energizing!!!
Thank you for sharing your story and context Don. It makes perfect sense.
Not long ago, I was asked for advice by a young person. In that context, I always say, make the choice that creates the most opportunity, even if it’s less money to begin with.
Manage and lead widely but make decisions narrowly…
Hey Dan, made me think! Helped me to reflect on one of the Great Free Thinkers of our time, Thomas Paine. Lots can be learned from knowing more about our Founding Fathers. Maybe not always exactly what they thought but even more importantly, how they thought, FREE! Thomas Paine said among other things, ” The real man(I will add women)smiles in trouble, gathers strength from distress, and grows brave by reflection”. Thoughts, questions, statemens or statewomens????
It could be gleaned from that quote that everything is not gonna be easy. If it were they would not pay leaders more to figure stuff out than working folk. More is paid for people who have skills not common to the common folk, if you will. Thinking is a skill not often utilized, mostly, thought not recognized as such. Don’t beleive me, go outside right now find a person and ask them if pi equals the sum of its parts? (hehe) Leaders are chosen and it is alledged one of their functions is the ability to be able to pause, think, choose and act. Leaders know this and understand and accept responsibility for undertaking the role of problem-solver, in my opinion. Agree, disagree, Bueller, Bueller?
Another one of my favorite Paine quotes is from Common Sense, it goes like this, “There was a time when it was proper, and there is a proper time for it to cease”. Takes some thinking from the ole noggin to figure out if the present idea has completed its usefulness and time to conjure up another! Thinking can wear one out. Quote from Curly from The Three Stooges, “I tried to think but nuttin happened”.
Leaders are the folks paid to determine if the present narrow or wide path is heading us where we want to be going. If it is time to change course they are the ones entrusted with having the wisdom to make the decision and the responsibilty of the outcomes.
I feel a bit of balance in your comment Scott. Sometimes choose wide..other times choose narrow.
Perhaps one key idea is to don’t drift but intentionally decide if this is a wide spot or a narrow spot. Thank you
Thanks Dan, just thinking out loud and hopefully bringing the idea of life as a fluid verb to life. As much as some of us or all of us at any given times one thing is constant: times they are a changing. SP
You might say it: “Go wide, then narrow.” Consider without limits opportunities for more perfect outcomes, then act with focus to complete specific steps that add value to your cause and help you grow personally.
LOve it! thanks Glenn
Success requires both narrow and wide thinkers. Narrow thinkers are able to focus and be most comfortable working on details and actually get things done…today. Wide thinkers don’t have the patience for that and are more comfortable thinking about future objectives and stategies. They are like magnets…where opposites attract…because they need each other.
The genius of “AND”.. thanks
Variations on a theme…the musical group, Yes, had a song with the lyrics, “Shoot high, aim low…break high, let go”, while some of that was speaking to wartime conflict, there seems to be another connection.
Is it a case of maintaining that dual vision? Or when to maintain the long view and how to apply it short term and when to let go? And again, from reading the comments, the pace and the timing of it all seems worth factoring in.
In crisis, knee jerk mode, the human tendency is to put blinders on and focus narrowly, which unfortunately also reduces the ability to see immediately available peripheral options. Just one more dance on the dance card!
Invigoration ideas and questions.
I hadn’t thought of crisis mode with wide/narrow in mind. Great context.
If you consider long-term vs. short-term perhaps long-term is narrow and short-term is where wide best applies????
When you are guided by a vision, you are both wide and focused – focused on your purpose and values, wide and aware in how you move forward. When we are narrow, we don’t notice opportunities that will get us where we want to go faster, better and easier.
Thanks for bringing your wisdom and expertise to this conversation Jesse….In a few words you bring clarity!
This is really good. Focusing on this one:
Do what you can with what you have. Limited resources invite protective attitudes. Protecting preserves the past but doesn’t build the future.
So true. Protecting to preserve is a lowest effort response. It takes conscious choice to stay wide and open to the new when change threatens an existing structure in which one is invested. As a leader, you have to hear the concerns and help people voice and work through them to get beyond fear to opportunity. The opportunity with limited resources only comes from creativity and you have to get past fear to have creativity.
I feel like you captured an important component of going wide. It seems to have touched you. Best wishes and thanks for sharing your insights.
I would like to discuss and extend this- Do what you can with what you have. I believe leaders should help though their actions. and extending help by what you have is the first and important step. And the more important is limited resources. Generally it invites protective attitude. But it also opens options. Adequate resources do not compel you to think. i have seen people with limited resources growing faster than those having sufficient resources. I think, here You ( Dear Dan) are the classical example. You started with limited resources and did exceedingly better than most of your colleagues, I believe.
Resource crunch is essential to develop a person. Therefore, leaders can choose to be wide by helping others while maintaining their dignity. This is possible when leaders offer and extend help but do not expect from others.
Thanks for your insights and kind words, Ajay… you clarify an essential component of growth… limited resources while staying wide. Powerful idea!
We need to get over thinking, “If I only had….” Very inspirational comment.
This is very interesting and will probably have to be applied differently for different scenarios. From a young entrepreneur’s perspective: When starting out, in the ideation phase and eventually in your grand vision (the “why”) you are well advised to keep it as wide as possible… as you get into the creation phase you have to narrow, especially if resources are scarce. Often entrepreneurs are tempted to follow various opportunities at the same time and serve every customer that comes along… but more often than not, that distracts them from growing strong in one particular area. Hence I would recommend for entrepreneurs: Go wide in the inspiration phase, narrow in the creation phase and again wide once you excel. Thanks Dan, great post! Chris