How to Combine Focus with Innovation to Build Your Career

How to Combine Focus with Innovation to Build Your Career

You are not Netflix, so it might feel like tips from Netflix CEO and billionaire Reed Hastings on how to juggle with business-oriented concepts won’t be relevant to your career.

I am convinced otherwise. In today’s new economy having a career as an artist has never been closer to being CEO of a company. Your 1 full-time/unpaid-overtime employe company.

Storytelling used to be a clean-cut four-way street. You picked a medium: cinema, television, print, or radio and you just aimed for the best-case scenario in it.

Now, we wake up every day to the news that a new platform is ordering original content. We went from dreaming to make indie hits that would play in theaters and would launch our career to hesitating between doing a web series, participating to a Genero contest,  hopping on the VR train, or sticking with the “old” model.

Even the release of a new app can mean a life change for your tomorrow. I got on Tapestry and Vine at the very beginning of their release. I naturally moved toward Tapestry and put all my energy in it for a year. I was one of the top accounts there. But

But Tapestry closed and I lost it all but an anecdote and some wisdom to share. Vine also closed, but it stays up long enough for those who really went for it to become stars and millionaires.

So how do you know when to stay focused on your initial strategy and when to innovate and go for something that you didn’t even know existed the day before?

In other words, how do you combine Focus with Innovation? And this is where Netflix CEO Reed Hastings’ wisdom comes into play. Asked that question on the podcast Masters of Scale, here is what he said:

It’s super tricky because the horse was the dominant form of human transportation for about 5,000 years. Domesticated in Kazakhstan, 3,000 B.C.

So for 5,000 years, if you wanted to make a contribution in personal transportation it was a better saddle, a better breeding, a better hues, and then in one generation from 1930, everything changed with combustion engine.

Andthe trick is to realise that those are pretty rare, and most of the time the right strategy is to improve what you’ve got.And then some of the time, everything changes. And correctly recognising the differences there is really important.

So to make a more modern example, if we had continue to refine DVD by mail for another two decades that would have been a failure strategy because the underlying substream was changing and internet delivering was becoming possible. And now that we are Internet delivering, we think that Internet Television is going to be a fifty or hundred year paradigm and so now our focus has shifted to be “How do we do better and better on the core?”

So to answer your question, it depends on your confidence on the longevity of your current business model.

The rate of innovation has been increasing for hundreds of years and that’s continuing to increase. I don’t think it has anything to do with the network age, that’s the current thing in one area but that’s also what’s happening in energy and in many other parts of the economy, so think of it as humans are inventing faster and faster. And that does mean that the typical business model is shorter lived that it would have been before, so I’m not expecting Internet streaming to be 5,000 years like the horse. But maybe like the automobile where it’s a hundred years.

How to apply this mindset to your career?

Sidenote: we just learned that the biggest subscriber-based online streaming company in the world thinks Internet streaming will stay a relevant business model for 5 to 10 more decades. That’s a good news, even if you’re 20, you should be covered for your lifetime. (Don’t think about your children yet).

  1. Decide what’s your playground. (You can have several, but the risks of spreading yourself thin will be higher.)
  2. Evaluate its current business model and long it might stick around (recognize that an app has a higher chance to have a short life-span, so you need to hit quick and hard, whereas you’ll have more years ahead to hone your craft and make an impact with films)
  3. Focus on improving your offer. That means, closing doors and really narrowing your focus on your craft and skills for that thing you want to offer. As long as you stay in the same field, and that said field is healthy, you won’t innovate but rather build upon what you’ve gained. Aka incremental steps for us, improvements in the business worlds.
  4. Stay alert. While you focus on getting strong, good, great, “the best” at something, ask yourself where is your playground heading within the map of playgrounds. A great example is Alex Bloomberg who went from decades of working for National Publica Radio to becoming an entrepreneur and launching Gimlet Media that quickly became one of the most well-known original podcasts production company because he recognized there was room for innovation. After he did the jump, he went back to focusing on making podcasts.  (And to go full circle, some podcasts are now becoming TV Shows).

Hopefully, this makes sense to you.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about it. FOCUS has been my number 1 problem over the years and as I’m now owning this weakness of mine and taking conscious steps toward compensating it, I am more and more digging knowledge from business entrepreneurs as I recognize that we are CEO of our careers.

Listen to the full podcast with Reed Hastings .
Photo by Stefan Cosma