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Fanatic Focus Factor

VC blogger and friend Fred Wilson posts that he may have a form of attention deficit disorder (ADD). He’s a creative guy and he attributes some of his creativity to mental restlessness and being easily bored, especially by repetitive activity.  Fair enough.  Always suspected this of VCs.  But then Fred goes too far! He says:

“But if you look at most successful entrepreneurs, they exhibit many of these characteristics too. They can't focus on anything for long periods of time, but they lunge into new stuff with a voracious appetite to figure it out.”

Sure, entrepreneurs are bored by boring stuff, too.  But I claim that Fanatic Focus Factor (F cubed) is an essential disorder of the entrepreneurial personality.  The opposite of ADD, F cubed is a dangerously intense focus on one thing for an extended period of time – just ask the family of any entrepreneur.  That’s how the “voracious appetite to figure it out” gets satisfied.

It takes single minded concentration to get a company launched and a product or service that never existed before into the market place.  There are a zillion potential distractions (that’s why it’s good to have competent staff early).  There are unanticipated waves of problems trying to swamp the small boat that is a new company.  The helmsperson needs fanatic concentration to steer over and through them.  A tunnel vision which excludes the many possible avenues to failure while relentlessly focusing on the founding vision is essential.

There are problems which simply can’t be solved either by committee or by picking them up and putting them down.  They can be solved by devoting every waking and sleeping minute of several days exclusively to the problem at hand.  These problems need fanatic focus.

F cubed is the reason why many entrepreneurs are NOT the right people to pilot a company beyond its very early stage.  A large company needs a CEO who looks at many things without fixating on one.  Running a company beyond startup is a lot like flying a plane in instrument conditions: you need to continuously scan all the instruments even if one is showing something that alarms you.  Entrepreneurs don’t naturally do that well.

VCs have a portfolio. They, too, need to keep scanning the portfolio and can’t let the problems or opportunities of any one company overwhelm their attention.  Maybe that’s why ADD IS good for them.

Perhaps we’ve found an essential difference between entrepreneurs and VCs but let’s be scientific about this.  It’s also possible only nerd entrepreneurs have F cubed (I posted here about the value of programming in 72 hour spurts). I’d be very interested in hearing whether the other entrepreneurs whose posts also appear in My Way, The Entrepreneur Network think they have ADD or F cubed or both or neither.

Brad Feld, a VC and friend who coordinates a network of VC bloggers which includes Fred’s blog,  could be an interesting case study.  “Brad,” I would say if I were Larry King, “you were a nerd entrepreneur.  Did you have F cubed?  Did you get over it over it?  Now you’re a VC. Do you now have ADD? Is it helpful?”


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Brian Thomas

Actually, if you look up the clinical definition, you'll find that "hyperfocusing" is an ADD trait. Instead of "attention deficit disorder", at least one leading specialist suggests that it should be named "attention inconsistency disorder". It is one of a seeming continuum of disorders that are characterized by inhibited activity in the brain centers that regulate attention and control of mental and physical activity.

ADD has gone by a number of names over the years, as it has sometimes defied clear definition and characterization. Many actually regard the diagnosis as just an excuse, though in my case - diagnosed at 47 - the diagnosis was half of the therapy. As the title of one book on the topic says: "you mean I'm not lazy, stupid or crazy?"

But I'm afraid that this attribute doesn't disqualify you from the diagnosis.

Dharmesh Shah

I actually think I manifest both.

A lot of the time, I have ADD and need to bounce around a bunch of different things.

Others, I become fanatically focused on a simgle thing and can't let it go until I work through it.

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