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November 9, 2020 no comments

The Hidden Superpower of Strategic Focus

The first death unequivocally caused by COVID was reported to the world on January 11th 2020 – that’s just 303 days ago (even if it feels like a lifetime away).  And yet, with interim data announced today showing a vaccine candidate from Pfizer and BioNTech to have at least 90% efficacy, it seems certain a vaccine to protect against a virus that was unknown to science a year ago will be approved in the US and Europe, before the end of 2020.  Indeed, China has already licensed a vaccine, albeit without the data that would typically be required to support such an approval.

The global scientific community and pharmaceutical industry is delivering technically challenging innovation at a pace that arguably has never been witnessed before.  Which begs the question, why?

At a simplistic level, the answer is obvious: need.  We are responding to a pandemic that, at a minimum, is a continuing threat to our normal way of life, and for far too many people a serious threat to their health.

But that cannot be the whole answer.  After all, the threat posed by cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and Alzheimer’s, if less immediate is no less severe.  Indeed, by most measures the morbidity and mortality burden from many of these diseases are greater than the threat posed by SARS-Cov2.  And in response we have a succession of “moonshots” and similar grand plans to beat cancer, and immeasurably more resources poured into research and development across these disease areas over the last decade than has been directed thus far at COVID.  And despite that, progress, while real in some limited areas, has been modest.

The real engine beyind light-speed progress towards a COBID vaccine has been strategic focus.  Large organisations, from Governments to global pharmaceutical companies, have made delivery of a safe, effective COVID vaccine not just a priority but, for this year at least, THE priority.  That’s very different from reeling off a list of “priority areas” as large as cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s – that is scarcely any more focused than setting out to be “healthy”.

The power of strategic focus is often overlooked, in part because there rarely is one thing in front of us that matters more than everything else.  But we under-estimate the impact on delivering ANY of our objectives if we have too many of them competing for attention.  We easily recognise that individuals have only limited bandwidth (because we feel that ourselves), but we readily forget that the same is true for even the largest organisations.

The hidden penalty of diluted priorities is the scourge of productivity in the 21st Century.  As more and more objectives are …

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