The author and leadership guru Stephen Covey encourages us to only focus on concerns that we have control over. He outlines the “circle of concerns” as all of the stuff that worries us – and then a smaller “circle of influence” (within the larger “circle of concerns”) that only contains stuff that we can actually control.
His point, of course, is that we should only spend our energy on stuff that we can do something about. Focus only on problems that lie within your “circle of influence.”
Easy to say, HARD TO DO! As creative people, our passion for our work makes it more difficult to worry selectively. Why? The more passionate you are, the more protective and perfection-driven you become. Any concern becomes exaggerated just based on your beautiful vision being obstructed. Regardless of whether or not you have influence, you will want to tackle every problem as it emerges.
This tendency is dangerous. Your energy becomes fractured as you start to obsess over details and situations that are beyond your control. Ultimately, your ideas and projects suffer.
When faced with a problem, here are a few questions that all creative leaders should ask themselves:
Is this REALLY in your circle of influence?
Many designers will argue with printers over an error that was made during production. Most of the time, the error can be fixed. But sometimes, due to a hard deadline, resources, and the limitations of the machinery, ink, and paper, the right answer is to work around the error. Rather than obsess, time is better spent on changes that can still be made. Nevertheless, many projects suffer because a concern OUTSIDE of the circle of influence becomes the center of attention. The best practice here is to ask yourself, “what is the percentage likelihood that this problem can be reversed with further discussion?” If the chance of resolution is less than 10% then you need to cut your losses! Yes, attaining your perfect vision is nice, but not at the expense of maintaining momentum.
Is this even WORTH your influence?
If you can focus on just the “circle of influence,” then you’re in good shape! But this doesn’t necessarily mean solving every problem. You have limited energy. Challenge your judgments on whether or not these concerns are really worthy of your time. Perhaps it is a concern about a competitor. While you could spend time and advertising dollars to quell your anxiety, perhaps the right answer is to focus on your own customers instead? Just because you can fix something doesn’t necessarily mean you should.
If you can’t delineate your “circle of influence,” get help.
Often times you’ll find yourself unsure of whether or not an item is under your control. A number of internet entrepreneurs I know lament when they find another site copying their design or marketing. The new entrepreneurs become angry and retaliatory, firing off multiple emails and discussing to no end. In contrast, the more experienced entrepreneurs understand that the back-and-forth that will ensue will simply waste their energy without much to show for it. If you’re too immersed in a problem to be objective, get some perspective from those around you!
In his bestselling book The Power of Now, spiritual teacher Eckart Tolle writes, “Ultimately… there are no problems. Only situations – to be dealt with now, or to be left alone and accepted as part of the present moment until they change or can be dealt with.” Great creative leaders are passionate about their work without allowing their perfectionism and/or anxiety to compromise their judgment. Challenge yourself to only worry about problems that you can solve.