How do you shine a light on the moon?

Chinese-Academy-of-Sciences-Yunnan-Observatory-1.2m-telescope-moon-laser-rangefinder

How do you shine a light on the moon?

Well, it’s actually pretty easy: you use a laser, not a flashlight.

So what is so special about a laser? It’s really just two things: focus and coherence.

I. Focus (Spatial coherence)

A flashlight creates light in one point (the lightbulb) and then lets it travel out in a more or less focused way. There is a lot of energy produced, but it spreads out in multiple angles, with a quickly diminishing impact. A laser bounces light back and forth in one beam between two mirrors before part of it escapes in a single beam and travels outward.

Lasers are focused (spatial coherence). They point in one direction, and one direction only. As a result, their light travels far without losing intensity.

Focus maintains energy and signal, ensuring that it will travel far without being watered down. That is just as true for our strategies, stories, business, and life. All too often people are all over the place. They overload stories (at Amazon we use PR FAQs to develop, crystallize and communicate big new ideas), have unclear and disconnected goals (for example in annual planning, or OP1 in Amazon speak), jump around adjacent problems (e.g. project updates), or are jack-of-all-trades and master of none (often seen in personal priority setting and time management).

We need to constantly push ourselves to gain and maintain focus!

When you write a PR FAQ (or call it strategy proposal), what is the one thing you want to achieve? Make that your story and stick to it. If you had to pick one thing, what would it be? What is most impactful? If you need to land only one thing with me (and I won’t remember more anyway), what’s that one thing? Put everything else in the FAQ (i.e. the appendices for your proposal).

That focus needs to come from you. Don’t collect a bunch of ideas, and present them (regardless of whether it’s just bullet points or a polished narrative) to see what sticks with the audience. ‘Throwing spaghetti on the wall’ only makes a mess that you will need to clean up afterward. You need to do the hard work of figuring out what matters most and go through the painful process of letting go of all the other cool stuff (there will be another PR FAQ for those).

The same thought model applies to all other plans, strategies, and written updates that we produce. Spend the time to really understand what matters. Then figure out all aspects and implications of that one thing, and write it down in a flow that allows others to follow your thinking.

The same is true for your career. You can do many things every day, and our space certainly allows you to be busy and tactical all day long. The problem is that busy and tactical doesn’t get you very far in the long run (nor does it get your team anywhere). The flashlight shines brightly a few feet away, but it won’t travel to the moon.

Take your time, sit back and think where you want to go. Then make a list of the few (!) things that you need to be really good at and deliver, to get there. Focus on them and deliver excellence. I hate to break it, but people rarely get rewarded for the effort. They do get prompted for impact.

If you’re versatile, you will be the go-to person to fix issues and plug holes. If you focus on your core areas, you will be looked upon to lead others.

The hard work is to keep that focus. Make time for constant check-ins and reflections. When tactical escalations distract you, take a pause, reflect, and come back to your priorities.

Don’t compromise strategy work for tactical work. It’s a true temptation, as humans always seek instant gratification. Push back against that desire. A good framework for that thinking is the 4-block model of urgent vs important. Make sure you spend the majority of your time in the top two quadrants. Avoid the bottom two. Spend time on the important things that move you and your goals forward!

 

4 boxes

 

II. Coherence (Compounding)

The second important quality of a laser is temporal coherence. The waves are aligned in resonance, with the peak of every wave overlaying and sitting on top of the peaks of other waves. It’s the perfect compounding effect. Without that compounding effect, a laser would be nothing else than a very flimsy flashlight, that won’t even be able to illuminate something a foot away.

You want to use the same compounding effect in your stories, projects, career, and life.

When you tell a story, don’t jump around. Once you have identified the key point that you want to convey, build upon it. Develop it further through your PR FAQ, OP1, or project update. Don’t jump around to other adjacent things. Stay on the topic until you’re done, then stop.

A good way of thinking about this is the inverted journalistic pyramid. Start with your punch line, then as you go further, add additional details. Don’t jump around. The story should not change, if the reader goes further down in your text, it only becomes more detailed and colorful. If someone only reads the first paragraph, they should understand the core. As they read further down, their understanding should deepen, but not change. If their understanding changes, and the story morphs and shape-shifts in their mind, then you didn’t do a good job in understanding, developing and focusing on the key point.

pyramid

 

Likewise, in your career, make sure the activities you’re driving are aligned with your goals. Make sure you are consistent with them! Switching around all the time will not let you gain real momentum anywhere. Focus, deliver, deliver more, build upon it, until you can proclaim victory. Small things add up, and the effect of compounding investments is staggering. It’s doesn’t need to be much that you add every time, but it needs to be consistent.

It’s easy to start a lot of things, and not follow through with them – I only need to look at the list of PR FAQs that we ‘wanted’ to write in our team but never did, or the plethora of action items we decide upon in brainstorming meetings and offsites, but hardly ever followed through with. Once you identified a goal, keep pushing.

Don’t kick off a lot of things, and then abandon them. Start a few that matter, and follow-through to the end. Go a few steps further every week, every day. Layer wave peak on top of wave peak. Gain momentum and build upon it. Make it an (Amazon) flywheel that you are constantly pushing!

Be a laser, not a flashlight. You CAN shine to the moon (and back).

#focus #goals #career #success

 


 

Did you like this article? Want to read more?

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Put on your own oxygen mask first - book cover

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