Screw focus! Get creative, form connections, and step away from the herd.

Like most of my other articles, this was inspired by a conversation on twitter. It was a short one but it left a lasting aftertaste of… disappointment.

You see, a guy was wondering whether he wanted to start a fitness blog or football news site. I offered my crazy solution to mix the two to provide a unique service. The response was a quote by Steve Jobs.

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.

Sigh. Him again. Like my friend Kate Hodson says:

I'd want to hire the one who does not want to be Steve jobs. He/she's not an oddball if they copy or idolise.

Let me ask you something. Do you think that Steve Jobs was couped up in his office reading entrepreneurial advice all day? No, he wasn’t.

I’m addressing every entrepreneurial soul out there.

Stop copying successful people and start making your own success.

They say oddballs succeed, more than anybody else. I agree.

It’s because they don’t think in terms of “tried and tested” methods, but in terms of innovation, of making connections where there weren’t any.

I hate re-directing people away from my writing because there is a risk that I’ll lose them, but I’ll make an exception for Buffer. I love their blogs because they focus on Psychology, which I believe to be indispensable in business.

According to Buffer, the ability to form connections is The Secret to Creativity, Intelligence, and Scientific Thinking. Not long ago they tweeted the image below and it got more than 1000 re-tweets.

Image by Hugh MacLeod.

Image by Hugh MacLeod.

Well, duh. I thought that everybody knew that!

To quote the article, connections fuel creativity, nothing is new.

I am afraid that every startup employee out there is doing the same thing: stalking growth hackers to adopt actionable ideas, trying old-fashioned marketing tactics to keep the bosses happy, and overall trying any piece of advice out there to see if there’s a fit. But why?

Why is it that most people are happy to be a part of the herd?

Perhaps because trying new things is quite risky for a business. But it is also the one thing that repeatedly makes companies viral and successful.

Nobody had put “PS I love you” in their email signature before hotmail.

Those guys knew that with big risks come great rewards and with no risk comes… well, average growth, if any. Nowadays, competition is so high that new startups are popping every minute, and unfortunately, most solve the same problems and try to disguise it by adding bells and whistles.

I’m all for innovation but if you think you have a marketable idea that’s been done before, you have to be down for trying new things. Taking risks will get you farther than any bell or whistle, than any feature or update, or even growth hack. What you need is to build the habit of forming connections.

Everything’s been done but there are billions of connections out there waiting to be made. Get on it!

Let’s make an example. Say you want to be a Mum blogger and write about parenting. You like following other mums’ feeds and reading their articles, but you also have set opinions about game apps for children.

You’re thinking, do I want to write about parenting or game apps?

I’m thinking, why aren’t you doing both?!

Just start a blog, put down some words about children and apps, and try to send some of your articles to other Mum bloggers who are well connected. Who knows, eventually you might be providing this service: writing app reviews and being the go-to-tech-mum of the community.

Now I want you to do this exercise:

  • pick two or more hobbies that you like
  • write down 10 ways to mix them, the crazier the better
  • write an intro blog about your idea and unleash it on social media

If you already have a business, maybe you want to branch out because things have been getting stale. I agree with Steve Jobs, actually, focus is very important. But I also think that if you can identify different user personas for your business, you can expand the focus by reaching out to more people.

Here’s another exercise you can do if you‘d like to branch out:

  • write a list of any person who would use your product
  • check if you are reaching out to all those people
  • if not, think of ways to do so and not compromise your business

You can keep your focus AND extend your reach with side projects.

Side projects are a gift of the Gods and The Gift that Keeps on Giving because when more roads lead back to your business — the point of back links — it becomes stronger and you reach a lot more people.

One great example of a side project is Unsplash, which was created by Crew to give designers high-res photos for free. Now everybody uses them for blogs and designs. And Crew is not stopping there. 

If you can provide value to your customers, they’ll love you for it.

Thank you for reading and happy brainstorming!

Violeta Nedkova

Violeta Nedkova is a multipassionate marketer who loves helping people. She talks and writes about marketing with purpose and personality because it's so much better than traditional marketing.