I recently finished a book titled Deep Work by Cal Newport. The thesis of Newport’s Wall Street Journal-bestseller is that in today’s increasingly distracted world, those who cultivate the ability to focus and “work deeply” will thrive. Of all the lessons I took away from reading Deep Work, one that has really stuck with me is the idea of avoiding what Newport calls the “any-benefit” mindset.
Newport explains this mindset in the context of our propensity to spread ourselves thin across various network tools ranging from blogs and social media, to email and messaging apps. He argues that many of us adopt far too many of these network tools because, when looked at in isolation, each one of them offers us some sort of benefit. When looked at as a whole, however, the result is a disjointed and distraction-inducing mess that greatly detracts from our ability to focus and deliver deep, meaningful work.
Jason Griffing (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the director of business development at Harrison Home Systems in Denver, CO, and the co-host of weekly home technology podcast found at HomeTech.fm I couldn’t help but ponder this concept within the broader framework of our fast-paced industry. What could we stand to gain by freeing ourselves from the any-benefit mindset? Could applying these lessons enhance our bottom line by enabling the delivery of deeper, more meaningful work? The answer is clearly yes, and one of the first areas this lesson should be applied to is product/vendor selection.
It’s hard to imagine working in an industry that has more SKUs to manage than ours. And when looking at our product mix, we can surely point out a benefit to every item we’ve ever decided to specify. Some of the benefits are clear and vital: we specify network-connected power conditioners to eliminate costly truck rolls; we specify high-quality speakers because we believe audio performance is important; we specify HDCP 2.2-compliant switches because black screens are a bad thing. In such cases, a singular benefit may be enough to justify the decision.
But we must never get complacent. Invariably, the any-benefit mindset will rear its ugly head when a product reps knocks on our door espousing the benefits of their shiny new widget. We hear them out and think to ourselves “well, that could be useful.” There can be any number of reasons why getting behind this new product might make sense. Perhaps we see in it an opportunity to differentiate from our competitors. Or maybe it will allow us to say yes to a client request that until now we’ve had no solution for. Or, it could be as simple as a few extra points of margin.
Whatever the case it’s critical that we prevent the any-benefit mindset from driving our decision. Bringing a new product or category into the fold is fraught with potential downsides. From engineering and purchasing, through to installation, programming, and support, bringing on a new product or category presents a ripe breeding ground for costly and time-consuming mistakes. As such, it’s critical that in selecting new products we see the potential for a long-term upside that will outweigh the costs incurred during the invariably difficult learning curve.
Clearly we can reap great benefits by applying these lessons to our product selection. But why stop there? Could we reduce inefficiency and overhead through a thorough review of the software tools we elect to use in our business? How about freeing up more time to focus on profitable relationships through a critical review of the projects we say yes to? Clearly there are numerous ways we can apply Cal Newport’s lessons to great effect.
Our line of work mandates that we juggle numerous projects, while managing relationships with many different clients, trade partners, vendors, and employees. It’s no wonder that we often find ourselves spread thin. However, the highly nuanced nature of our business also requires that we find as much time as possible to eliminate distraction and focus on what Newport calls “deep work.” Short of simply working more hours, how are we to balance it all? Breaking away from the any-benefit mindset is the first critical step. Doing so will allow us to deliver more meaningful work, enhancing both our reputation and our bottom line.