Tag Archives: macro-focus

How Michael Lewis writes such great books

I wish I hadn’t written what I wrote 3 days ago.

I wrote a post on The Power of Focus — how, when you concentrate on one thing, and one thing only, you get fantastic results.

That’s true, and I stand by it, but I missed a HUGE point that I should have made in that post.

I focused entirely on micro-focus. I completely missed macro-focus. And you need BOTH to produce fantastic work.

Micro-focus

Micro-focus is focus on the immediate task at hand, what’s right in front of you right now. Micro-focusing is what you do when you lock yourself away and shut off the wi-fi in order to write. It’s when you find a quiet place to read a book with no distractions. It means putting your phone away when you’re talking to someone. It’s doing deep work.

That’s what I was talking about in my last post. The fact that doing this kind of micro-focus produces fantastic results — better work, better conversations, more enjoyment. That’s all true.

What’s missing here is macro-focus.

Macro-focus

Macro-focus means that your actions over time also need to be focused — ideally on one project or long-term goal. It’s that old adage: you can have anything, but you can’t have everything.

So it means that rather than trying to build five businesses, you focus on one. Don’t try and learn French and the trombone at the same time. Don’t train for the Olympics while also trying to write a great novel — pick one or the other. And if you do pick the novel, then try and just write ONE novel at a time.

As Robert Greene says:

Conserve your forces and energies by keeping them concentrated at their strongest point. You gain more by finding a rich mine and mining it deeper, than by flitting from one shallow mine to another – intensity defeats extensity every time.

– Law 23: Concentrate Your Forces, The 48 Laws of Power

Now, that’s not to say that you can’t have multiple goals, or do lots of things in your life. You can. You just have to do them in sequence rather than all at once. Once you’ve built one business, sell it or hire someone to manage it, and build another. Write one book, and publish it, then build another. Or train for the Olympics. Whatever you want.

The combination

Let’s look at the different combinations of macro- and micro-focus.

The Focus Matrix

The real power comes when you can combine a macro-focus — a single, overarching goal — with the micro-focus necessary to achieve that goal.

Let’s look at Michael Lewis. However you want to judge success as a writer, he’s one of the best. Multiple New York Times best-selling books. Critical acclaim for the quality of his writing. Huge influence in his niche. And he’s probably made a ton of money.

Let’s take Flash Boys as an example of his process (because he talks about it in this interview, which I highly recommend). It started out as a potential magazine story for Vanity Fair, but when he interviewed a couple of people, he realised it had the potential to be a book.

So he went at it — hard. He spent a year interviewing Brad Katsuyama, the book’s main character. He talked to over a thousand high-frequency traders for information, for background, and for on-the-record comments. He did as much research as one person could do on this world. And then he spent the weeks and months to craft a fantastic manuscript.

That’s the macro-focus. One project, hard.

Now let’s look at the micro-focus. Imagine being interviewed by Michael Lewis for a book. Do you think he’s checking his twitter feed while he’s talking to you? No — partly because he doesn’t have twitter. Do you think he’s also watching the game on TV over your shoulder? No. He’s 100% in the room, getting the material he needs to get.

And when he’s writing, he’s writing. Here’s what he has to say about his process:

The day is not structured to write, and so I unplug the phones. I pull down the blinds. I put my headset on and play the same soundtrack of twenty songs over and over and I don’t hear them. It shuts everything else out. So I don’t hear myself as I’m writing and laughing and talking to myself. I’m not even aware I’m making noise. I’m having a physical reaction to a very engaging experience. It is not a detached process.

That’s micro-focus, applied to a macro-focused goal.

The end result? Michael Lewis has written not one but multiple fantastic, best-selling books over his career.