ADD Pride: Is Focus Overrated?

Last Updated May 18, 2010 7:59 AM EDT

Joi Ito: is focus overrated?When the president nominated Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, the media rushed to offer up the usual background pieces on her early career and character. What emerged is a picture of a driven woman who posed in a judge's robes for her high school portrait and had a laser-like focus on her goal. This sort of single-minded drive and determination is commonly portrayed as the path to success, but is it right for most of us?
Not necessarily, argues Joi Ito, entrepreneur and CEO of Creative Commons, on his blog recently. Drawing inspiration from John Seely Brown and Lang Davison's new book The Power of Pull, Ito sets out another model of how to pursue success for the young and ambitious but focus-challenged:
The world is changing and that instead of stocking resources and information, controlling everything, planning everything and pushing messages and orders from the core to the edge - innovation is now happening on the edges and resources are pulled as needed instead of stocked.

You should set a general trajectory of where you want to go, but that you must embrace serendipity and allow your network to provide the resources necessary to turn random events into a highly valuable one and that developing that network comes from sharing and connecting by helping others solve their problems and build things.... At some level, if you plan everything, you are very unlikely to be able to embrace serendipity or be as "lucky".

So if you abandon the carefully choreographed Kagan model of success, what might your life actually look like? Ito explains that allowing your focus to wander and trusting the world to provide, isn't well-suited for those with hair-trigger nerves (or a tendency towards jet lag):
While my life may look completely chaotic and disorganized... I feel like I am floating in a rich network of highly charged people and serendipitous events, not a single day going by where I don't feel like "Yay! I just did something really good!" Although the heavy travel is wearisome and the lack of stability slightly disorienting, I feel like I'm surrounded by loving, smart people and feel happier than I've ever been in my life.
Ito may be celebrating distractability and randomness, but plenty of others are arguing that the inability to focus is just a symptom of internet-related brain rot for many of us. What's your personal view of wandering attention: virtue or vice?

Or if you're already convinced of the advantages of serendipity, check out Ben Casnocha's 50 suggestions for exposing yourself to randomness, collected from the utterances of business guru Tom Peters.

(Question mark head image by Marco Bellucci, CC 2.0)

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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.