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Focus Determines Our Reality

Updated: Apr 21, 2020

"Your focus determines your reality" - Qui-Gon Jinn in The Phantom Menace

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker capped a monumental 2019 for the Walt Disney Company. Disney's annual revenue surged by $10 billion to a record of $ 69.7 billion; it added 21st Century Fox to Pixar, Hulu, Marvel and the Star Wars brands it already owned; its studios released seven of the ten most lucrative movies of 2019 (with Avengers: Endgame now the highest-grossing movie of all time); and its parks and resorts segment performed strongly yet again.  Much to the delight of its investors, Disney's stock rose 30% over the year.

Given Disney's stellar performance, few would have had any issue with its CEO Bob Iger being named TIME Businessperson of the Year. 

At the start of Iger's tenure as CEO fifteen years ago, Disney recorded $31 billion in revenue and $ 2.5 billion in net profit. Its revenue today has doubled and its net profit quadrupled. While there are many lessons to be gleaned from Disney's rise and rise under Iger, we'll look at just one here; it's a lesson that Iger himself learned en route to becoming Disney's CEO.

In 2004, Disney began searching for a new CEO to replace the retiring Michael Eisner.  Iger was the only candidate from within Disney being considered for the position.  The selection process would involve multiple interviews with board members during which candidates would be pressed on how they intended to run the company, what they thought the company's focus and priorities needed to be, and how they would allocate capital. 

As he thought about these things, his friend, a successful marketing and political consultant, suggested for him to first identify what the strategic priorities would be if he were made CEO. "What are your priorities?" he asked Iger.  Iger started listing them down.  When he reached the sixth point, his friend stopped him and said, "You can have only three".

Three strategic priorities, no more. The more the priorities, the less focus there would be on each of them, and the more spread out the allocation of time and resources would be.  Limiting the number of priorities also forces us to consider what gives the biggest bang for our buck.

Here are the three priorities Iger articulated to the members of the board:

  • Invest most of Disney's capital in high quality branded content (creativity)

  • Use technology to make more compelling content and reach people in more innovative ways

  • Grow globally, deepening connection to markets around the world.

Iger got the job, assumed the role of CEO on October 2005, and Disney never looked back since.

In hindsight, we can see these three strategies guiding Disney's decisions and activities, and how they have influenced outcomes. The priorities Disney focused on have become reality. Focus is central to good leadership. People need to understand what the priorities of the organisation are, what their own priorities therefore need to be, and how they should spend their time and resources in ways that realise the organisation's priorities.

It's a new year. You may be planning for your organisation, your team, or even your own role. In each instance, ask yourself, "What are my priorities?". Let's keep them to just a few, and focus on realising them.

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