Why do so many initiatives, projects and programs fail? Lack of focus?

I just got back from a heartening Sunday morning aikido session, full of energy and well-relaxed in body and mind. Thus, a right moment to reflect and share some thoughts.

In Aikido, we learn that we must focus all the time; without focus we are just wasting our time and energy and we are not able to achieve what we intend to do on the tatami.

This also applies to our projects. Though many of us know this, we just tend to forget and we keep making the same mistakes all over again. We keep on dispersing our attention and resources on too many targets … in the end we achieve too little. At least, this is what I have observed when conducting evaluations and reviews, or when providing technical support or coaching for many projects, programs, policies, initiatives and/or teams around the world.

Insufficient results or full-blown failures may be a consequence of lack of focus. All too often, we do undertake very pertinent initiatives and we do some very good work, but we get stuck because we do only half of the work. We insufficiently invest in bringing together all conditions of success.

In Aikido, we learn that many elements must be brought together to succeed. The right timing, the right position, the right balancing of energies, our technique (well-trained capacities), etc. must all be combined and become one single process. Relaxed focus and preparedness allow us to seize opportunities and circumvent blockages.

The same holds for our programs, projects, strategies and policies. We shall prioritize and then prioritize again; while remaining flexible, seizing opportunities and avoiding getting stuck. We must acknowledge that trying to tackle too many endeavours at the same time may be the best recipe for failure. We need to reflect more profoundly on what is required to succeed, on what is needed to make a real difference, on how we can generate sufficient critical mass to achieve transforming and lasting outcomes and impact.

While making best use of resources entrusted to us we shall indeed try to maximize the value for money of our programs, policies, initiatives, etc. But we shall avoid short-sighted measurement that only looks at isolated outputs and performance. We shall plan for and assess achievements in a holistic manner. This implies that we must assure that resources and timing are attuned to our ambitions. We must acknowledge that focus and flexible perseverance are key to success in any program, project or policy. … Just like in Aikido.