How’s your “Focus”?



“Focus” is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the center of interest or activity”.  We hear the word a lot.  For instance if you want to improve your golf game you might be told, depending on your present strengths, to “focus” on your weakness. . . and improve it, whether that is driving the ball, hitting your irons, or putting.


What about, though, if you want to improve your business?  What do you put your focus on.


International Business Machines (IBM), according to this article from The Hustle, has produced more patents for 29 years consecutively than any other company in the United States until 2022.  They filed only about one-half the number of patents in 2022 than they had in previous year. . . .on purpose.  And, it dropped them to #2 in the country behind Samsung.



Why the drop for IBM?  According to IBM Director of Research Dario Gil it was because of one word — “Focus”.  Gil pointed out “that IBM increasingly sees collaboration as a means toward innovation, which should be measured not just by patent count or R&D dollars, but by the life-changing applications that this strategy will help IBM pursue.”


To this end, Gil continues in saying that going forward, “The areas of focus are hybrid cloud, data and AI, automation, security, semiconductors, and quantum computing.”  Patents on other items will just not be pursued. (Sentence emphasis by bolding is mine)


Funeral Director Daily take:  I enjoyed reading that short article and it made me wonder, “If I want to improve my funeral business, what should I focus on?”


Is it similar to what the golf pro may tell you?  Focus on your weaknesses. . . . or should a business focus on their strengths?  I think that is a great question. . .and the answers may be different for each funeral business.


Tom Anderson
Funeral Director Daily

I can think of a lot of times in the course of operating my funeral home where I made conscious decisions on how we should focus our human and financial resources.  And, unlike what the golf pro may say, it was almost always about making our strengths even stronger.


For instance, we started pre-arranging funerals in the early 1960s — a lot earlier than most of our competitors. As a matter of fact at that point in time in Minnesota we could not receive any payment or commission for doing so. However, pre-arranging meant increased future market share.  When I came in to management in 1980, I doubled down on our “focus” with pre-arrangement. . . hiring staff and doing seminars even though it had to be paid for with funds generated from the at-need business.


You see, at the end of the day, our overriding “focus” was always on building market share for the future. Sometimes, taking away profits from the present day to do so.  I realized that building market share was something we became good at. . . and we put a “focus” on it by the way we handled services, by how we priced services, and by how we went after pre-arrangements.


As a matter of fact, when we built a new funeral home with our first crematory in it in 2006 I made the decision that the crematory would only be used for our own cases.  No trade-call cremation services unless it was a favor to a colleague in a bind.  My reasoning for such was that instead of having funeral directors in a solitary room doing trade-call cremations at $500 a pop during the day I believed it was more valuable to have them on funeral services or at such events like Kiwanis Club activities where they would be interacting with people and in the process building market share for the business.


So, take a look at your business.  Like IBM can you find a “focus” that will give you some type of advantage?  Maybe it is improving your weaknesses. . . . or maybe it is using those strengths you have and build them up even stronger to help even more in the future.


Final Thought  —  Focusing on your strengths or your weaknesses to improve?  It can be a dilemma. I play golf and I don’t hit my driver very far, and my iron play is average at best, but any strength in my golf game is in my “short game” —  chipping and putting.  That’s where I can save strokes.


If you have read my blog for any length of time you probably know that I grew up with the former #1 rated (1996) golfer in the world, Tom Lehman.  And, Tom has a summer lake home near mine and is a member of my hometown golf club where you can find him much of the time in the summer.


You know what he tells me about my golf game?  “Focus on your strengths — chipping and putting can improve it more than anything”. . . . So, I would argue in the funeral business. . . . Find your strength, like IBM is doing, and make it a focus to do even better.


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  1. Ed Gazvoda on January 31, 2023 at 5:55 pm

    Focus has been the cause of many market leaders being dethroned by disruptors.

    What Is Disruptive Innovation? Clayton M. Christensen

    “Incumbents’ focus on their existing customers becomes institutionalized in internal processes that make it difficult for even senior managers to shift investment to disruptive innovations.”

    Disrupters often build business models that are very different from those of incumbents. This is the point you have been making about niche funeral providers. My funeral home was the first to offer 4 new Sustainable Funeral options. We did not even offer earth burial, cremation, caskets, urns, viewing, or embalming. We only offered four, new, final disposition methods using our Fireless Cremation technology.

    Four years later, American Crematory has licensed our alkaline hydrolysis 2.0 technology. This adoption of new technology reminds me of when Apple was asked why they would introduce the iPad, when they had a large market share of the laptop market. Their answer: Who better than us to bring this technology to market. One sentence of Steve Jobs’ rings in my ears still: “You can make it anything you want.” With the systems being manufactured by American Crematory, families can make the final disposition whatever they want: a burial, a cremation, a composting, or a burial at sea.

    Focus should be on meeting the needs of families not focusing on business as usual.


  2. Danny Jefferson on January 31, 2023 at 5:55 am

    Today’s article “Focus” should hit to the heart of our profession. Focus on what you are great at doing, then challenge your team to make it better. Every detail, every family.

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