I heard an amazing story this week about a business woman who lost her children while out shopping.  She was leaving a department store on her way back to the car when the nightmare truth hit her.  “Oh my god, the children!”  Her twins, just 4 years old were with her when she left home that morning but after that everything was a complete blank. Ten years later and her feelings of guilt keep coming back at the most inconvenient times.

Strangely enough the very first thing to flash through her mind was “What the hell am I going to tell my husband?” As if the excuse was of more importance than a plan of action.  As she stood there in the doorway, trying to tell herself to calm down and think, she replayed the morning’s actions through her mind: ‘They were with me when I left home, grandma is away on holiday so… Oh my God what were they wearing? What will I do when someone asks me and I have to say I don’t know?!”

The interesting thing to me about this story is not how is it possible but rather how is it that it does not happen more often?  I believe the reason that we do not normally loose our children is because, especially when they are young, they constantly seek our attention. They interrupt our thought processes either by asking annoyingly repetitive questions or by a whole array of rewards and praise based behavior.  In fact these irritating habits are probably a safety mechanism to keep them close to us, even if we might sometimes wish it otherwise!

In business, I find that it is usually the ‘high maintenance’ employees and colleagues that occupy our minds. They distract us from what’s happening elsewhere. In photography, the photographer decides where to shoot, what to include and what to leave out.  And more than this, he or she decides what needs to be in focus and what can be left fuzzy. 

These are the kinds of decisions that we as leaders must take daily, if not hourly.  But where should we focus our attention?  For me, I find a very useful lesson is to learn to look in the shadows and to not allow oneself to become distracted by the obvious things constantly demanding our attention.

This week a brilliant new camera has been announced, it’s called the ‘Lytro’ and when it is launched at the end of the year, the user will be able to decide what to focus on, not at the time of shooting but later on, after they have taken the picture! Now wouldn’t that be great in business? The little Lytro camera is like a two dimensional time machine!

But back to the story of our business woman and her missing children.  Because they were playing so peacefully in the corner of a shop while she was checking out the best combination of outfits for an important business trip, she simply forgot all about them. When she decided that her present wardrobe would do and it’s time she got back to her PC, she simply left the store and headed for home. 

After calming herself down and yes, phoning her best friend, she traced back her journey to find them holding the hands of a shop assistant who was doing a great job of reassuring them and taking it in turns to wipe away their tears with her handkerchief.  And no, if you are thinking this – I am not the person, disguised as a woman, in the story.  I could never do a thing like that (and anyway I would be in a CD store) – who could!?

Have a good week,