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  • Dave Caperton

Stop Focusing on Success?

I’m lucky that I get to travel to interesting places and occasionally, I get to bring my family along. It’s one of the perks of being a funny motivational speaker (sorry, that was for the Google search engine). Last year I was able to visit the Grand Canyon for a few days with my wife and son and we were fortunate that our visit coincided with an annual amateur astronomers gathering during which backyard stargazers set up their telescopes—some quite powerful—along the rim of the canyon. After dusk, visitors could step up and gaze at planets and faraway constellations. After squinting through a dozen telescopes, including one that required us to climb a ladder to look through the eyepiece at a globular cluster of stars millions of light years away, we joined another astronomer who pointed out some things that could be seen without anything but the naked eye and a flexible neck.


As the astronomer guide pointed out different stars and planets overhead, he gave us a little trick to see some of the fainter objects. “Don’t look directly at them,” he said, explaining that the peripheral light receptors in our eyes are more sensitive than those in the center of the visual field. He pointed out a binary star and when I looked at it I saw nothing but empty night sky, but when I focused just to the right or left, there it was. Hmm.


I like discoveries like that because they always seem to have some metaphorical truth to them. I’m thinking about some of what you might be focusing upon—from sales success to the morale of your work team to what makes a good marriage—and you know what? Often the best way to find success is not by focusing intently on your goals, but instead by paying attention to the peripheral things.


Want to succeed in sales? Quit focusing on closing techniques and quotas and instead turn your attention to building connections by studying your customers’ industry and needs, providing value ahead of the buy and creating the kind of relationship that cultivates sales as a result.


How about team morale and loyalty? You could put your team through a full course of employee engagement measurements and interventions, but maybe what is most needed is an engaged manager who really cares enough about his or her employees to learn some of their names and creates the kind of workplace culture that is consistent with their own values and provides for their emotional as well as their financial needs.


My wife and I have been married for almost 28 years and when I think about what has made it such a wonderful journey, it’s not a contract or a mission statement. It’s instead morning coffee shared together, calling her up to share something funny that happened on the flight to my next speech just so I can hear her laugh, it’s a thousand smiles and little touches and kind words that have woven our two lives together so tightly that they have become like one inseparable thing.


Finding success is sometimes like finding a faint star. The more you try to concentrate on it, the more elusive it seems, but turn your attention to what surrounds it and watch how clear it becomes.

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