Greg McKeown’s Harvard Business Review blog coins the term clarity paradox, which I think is incredibly relevant for our industry. The paradox states that success is driven from extreme focus and clarity of mission, this success then opens up all kinds of opportunities, these opportunities lead to diffused effort and this leads to lack of clarity, which then limits the success. This is why success rarely leads to huge success.
Perhaps the best business advice I was ever given was to focus on what needed to be done like a laser beam. Do not let anything tempt you to move away from that beam. Mediocrity often comes from trying to do a whole lot of things all at the same time. Great leaders know precisely when to say no and have the discipline to mean it.
Perhaps there is no other area in the industry where this problem is more obvious than in pharmaceutical marketing. Take a look at the list of all the tactics being used to market a product and you will see the obvious lack of focus. I am not talking about the broad categories but rather the actual number of individual tactical pieces for each product. The list of items a sales person can choose from for their 30 second sample signing detail alone is overwhelming. Have you ever had the opportunity to look in a reps storage area? The tons of materials located there is the portrait of waste and the lack of focus our industry faces. The costs paid just for storing promotional pieces in the central warehouse is enough to start a significant business.
How do things get so out of hand? Well, it goes back to the paradox. When a company is just starting out, it is very deliberate as to what they spend and do to market their products. They choose the very best and the most essential things needed to drive their business. Yes, it takes marketing talent to prioritize and choose. It is a skill. Then as the products become more successful there is more money available. Rather than to increase funding on current programs that drove the success there is that constant tendency to try all kinds of new things. Much of this is driven by the sales force and some by senior leaders who remember what they did when they were marketers.
The results of this is usually a dilution of effort and the complaint that the sales team is not staying on strategy. Market research reports start to point out the confusion in the marketplace and everyone begins to talk about lousy execution. The next time this happens, go back to thinking about the clarity paradox and just blame it all on the first signs of success. Then close your eyes and think about the storage units and all the possible tools a rep has to deliver a message. If you give them 20 pieces, the chance of them using the best piece is only 5%, right? Focus like a laser beam.
Walter Isaacson tells a story about Steve Jobs and the way he ran Apple. Jobs once held a conference with his leadership team and asked them to list all the things Apple should do to continue its growth. Jobs wrote down the ideas and current projects as they poured out from the leaders. He immediately scratched off the ones he didn’t like but at the end there was still an impressive and extensive list of ideas. He then asked them to prioritize. After much debate and discussion Jobs went to the list and scratched off all but a few and said this is all we can and will work on, everything else was to stop.
Take another look at the blog where there are some other ideas on prioritizing such as selecting only the essentials, using more extreme criteria for choosing and avoiding the bias against current projects. Note that McKeown titles his blog “The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” which really points out the dilemma. Discipline is tough. Making a choice is tough. Saying no takes guts. Managing vendors and agencies that keep trying to add on projects is not easy. The key is really knowing what to focus on before you start and then having the fortitude to say no to all the “opportunities” that arise as you are driving towards extreme success, rather than just success. Give the clarity paradox some thought.