During a recent flight, I was seated next to a football player from a Division I university. He was their starting back and had also quarterbacked his high school team to a state championship.

As you may know, I coached football for many years, and it’s always a treat to talk details with a fellow enthusiast. On our two-hour flight, I don’t believe we stopped talking and reviewing video. One of the things we discussed is improving ball-catching skills. I asked if he was familiar with Steve Largent, the Hall of Fame receiver from the Seattle Seahawks, and he said he wasn’t.

Largent was an early Seahawks player who was drafted to help build a passing attack. He was successful in college, but at 5-foot-8, 170 pounds and with a very slow time in the 40-yard dash, he was not even predicted to make the team. When he retired 14 years later, he owned nearly every NFL receiving record. Legendary San Francisco 49ers receiver Jerry Rice idolized him and patterned his focus after Largent. He was voted into the NFL Hall of Fame and had his number retired by the Seahawks. He also went on to be a successful congressman and business leader.

How did he do it? It all started with focus.

Largent revealed his secret in a video made by the NFL, and the key part of the segment is about how he practiced focusing on just the tip of the football. Most receiving techniques emphasize always watching the ball into your hands and the correct hand placement. Largent’s secret was that after lots of repetition he could focus on the extreme tip of the ball, thus making it easier to catch the larger body of the ball. (Watch a video about Largent.)

The same technique can be used for your innovation team. We are all unfocused in our business lives due to the nature of work in 2017. Multiple conference calls, multiple projects and deadlines, and the demands of a leaner staff cause us to lose focus. We must choose to focus on the “tip of the ball” and see the core detail of the innovation we need. Break down your innovation tasks into smaller segments and decide which part is the center. Focus on that center…

In a story about focus by Stephanie Vozza in Fast Company, she notes:

“The average human has an eight-second attention span–less than that of a goldfish, according to a 2015 study from Microsoft. That number has shrunk over the years due to our digital connectedness and the fact that the brain is always seeking out what’s new and what’s next.

“No matter what environment humans are in, survival depends on being able to focus on what’s important–generally what’s moving. That skill hasn’t changed, it’s just moved online,” writes Alyson Gausby, consumer insights lead for Microsoft Canada.

“So what do you do when you need to focus on work–and not what’s moving around you? For most people, the first and most important step to increasing focus is to change the way you view it, says Elie Venezky, author of Hack Your Brain.

“ ‘Focus is a muscle, and you can build it,’ he says. ‘Too many people labor under the idea that they’re just not focused, and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. Once you drop this mistaken belief, you can take a much more realistic approach to building focus.’ ”

Keep innovating!


  1. Nice article. Love the Steve Largent Reference. Go Hawks.

  2. Thanks, Phil. Focus is always a challenge and this example by a great Hawk clarifies how to do it!


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