Focus and motivation: How can we reach extraordinary levels of accomplishment?

me and grant korgan
I'm with Grant Korgan -- his wife Shawna is in the background.
me and grant korgan
I’m with Grant Korgan — his wife Shawna is in the background.

National conferences traditionally feature motivational speakers and presenters. It goes with the territory. The conference organizers have the budget to pay the speakers’ fees. In the audience, the opportunity to be inspired?and?learn about how others have overcome adversity to achieve greatness provides some entertainment and, probably at least for a few, enough inspiration to spur real change and growth.

There is a danger, especially as you grow older, to become a bit cynical about these motivational presentations. In part, this is because most people who are successful would be that way, regardless (given a reasonably healthy overall environment). A perhaps better approach is to see the motivational value as incremental. Generally the individuals who need the least motivation gain the most value from these experiences (and that can also explain why motivational speakers make sense at national conventions — you generally don’t go to these events unless you have achieved some degree of success locally.)

These observations frame the reason I attended consultant Kelly Riggs presentation “How Successful Marketers Transition from Ordinary to Extraordinary” — because the title indicates you don’t get to join the game unless you’ve already achieved some success.

As well, the conference’s keynote speaker, Grant Korgan, with his wife Shawna, certainly offered the basics of motivational success: He has fought a spinal cord injury to adventure in Antarctica, dive in the ocean, fly an airplane, and continue his success as a nanoscience engineer.

Korgan’s?view, essentially, is that you can achieve success by positively adapting to your circumstances and visualizing and reaching out for support, and persevering. Obviously he (and his wife) have no intention of wallowing in self-pity. But they were a power couple beforehand — and I don’t think they would have needed any motivational speakers to put their lives back on track.

(I bumped into Korgan and his wife as we prepared to take the elevator to our hotel rooms. ?Embarrassingly, the photos I took turned out to be too blurry to be used — but another person waiting for the elevator offered to take a picture of me with Korgan, just as his wife moved into the background.)

Meanwhile, in the question period after Riggs’ presentation, a marketing executive said she has an employee who just doesn’t get it — who seems to have no ambition to reach higher levels, and wastes no time leaving the office for personal business as soon as she can. She asked Riggs if there is anything she could do to motivate the individual. Riggs, correctly, answered “no” — because motivation and success generally come from within the individual, and cannot be externally forced.

Then, allowing for the possibility you’ve already achieved some success and have drive, vision, and a willingness to move forward to the extraordinary,”how can you do it?

Riggs?says the key is focus, but of course you need to focus in the right things — and this can be one of the biggest challenges. ?He offers five “laws” to help us manage the focus process.

“First things first” — “The most important thing is to make sure the most important thing is the most important thing.”

That may seem to be a redundant tautology, but Riggs has a point. If you need to focus with intensity on a single key objective, and you focus on the wrong thing, you will certainly not get very far. Riggs provides one clue about how you can determine the right thing: ?Look at the most successful individuals in the field where you wish to focus, and see what they are doing. This may provide the clue to what you should do, too.

In AEC business development, Riggs says owners are moving towards wanting a “seller-doer” model, yet they also want great relationships, so anyone in business development needs to obtain enough technical knowledge/understanding to be effective in communicating technical competence with the owners.

The other laws include:

Overcome the resistance

The “blocks”, the “we’ve always done it that way” mind-set, need to be pushed away.

Create a path

You may not know the entire way to your destination, but you need a way to plan your direction. If you want to climb Mount Everest, for example, you’ll certainly want to follow the paths to get there. (It can be harder of course if the project has never been attempted, but you can still build some directions and way-stations.)

Use your resources

You can’t do this alone. You can call on colleagues, family, financial capacity, and other elements to propel you forward.


We go back to the basics. Success occurs with focus, and focus occurs with simplification. The more complexity you build into the process, the more likely you are to be sidetracked.

I left the motivational sessions to return to my hotel room, determined to think through Korgan and Riggs’ ideas, remembering that I’ve achieved success in my life already using similar concepts and visions. However, I know I (like most people listening?to these motivational geniuses), will need to work on staying on track.

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