Focus Model

Five levels of Focus Model explained - toolshero

This article provides a practical explanation of the Focus Model. After reading, you’ll have better insight into the various ways in which you can think or communicate about something.

What is the Focus Model?

The five levels of the Focus Model are a variation of David Rock’s ‘Choose Your Focus’ model in his book “Quiet Leadership”. The Focus Model describes five different ways to think or communicate about something. When you are aware of these five levels and realise what the basis of your thoughts or communications is, you can opt to move to a different, more useful level.

The drama level

The least useful thought and communication level is the drama level. The drama level is a level that includes emotion and venting. For instance, the majority of one’s energy is spent on repeating: ‘He said, she said, do you know what happened next?’ This is more about the contents of a situation. Although venting can sometimes be beneficial, it’s rarely useful and can hinder you in moving past the emotion to solve the problem.

The problem level

This level focuses on the problem. Both the drama and the details of a situation can contribute to a better understanding of the problem, but it’s important that a conversation (or your thoughts) go beyond the drama and details to better understand the problem or core problem to be solved.

The detail level

The detail level is aimed at the specific characteristics of a situation and the small actions, events or decisions that led to the current situation. Here, details can be useful, depending on how they are used – they are useful when they contribute to understanding a broader problem. However, when they cause more drama while the emotion around each detail surfaces, the details are merely interesting.

The strategy / planning level

This level is aimed at solving a problem. It is solution-oriented rather than problem or detail-based. Although some detail is required in planning, the focus is higher and more strategic than just the problem itself.

The vision level

The vision level is like looking at the forest (rather than focusing on the trees – which is drama and detail thinking). A vision is what keeps our broader intentions in their place. Why do you do this? Why is this important? What’s the broader goal you want to achieve? When you are guided by the vision, the problems have more context and become less personal. You can then spend these efforts on achieving the broader vision instead of spending your energy on smaller problems.

Five levels of Focus Model - toolshero

Why the Focus Model?

The ‘Choose your focus model’ helps to focus thought processes. It helps to identify your type of thinking at any given moment and offers the possibility to subsequently choose what you wish to focus your attention on. This tool can be useful for any type of conversation, for instance for team meetings or when approaching a difficult thought task.

This model is so easy that it can be applied to any type of conversation. For instance, the author does this by writing it down on paper or a whiteboard, so the concept is visible. The most frequently occurring impact of this model is that people feel lost in details, aren’t clear on what they are trying to achieve or how.
Additionally, the model helps you to recognise the perspective of the thoughts and subsequently lets you choose a different perspective, or has everyone in the conversation speak from the same perspective.

  • Vision: vision thinking is about the ‘why’ or ‘what’. It’s the big picture of what your goal is or what you’re trying to achieve.
  • Planning: strategic thinking is about how you get there.
  • Details: once you know where you’re going and how you can get there, the details come into focus.
  • Problem: problem thinking is the area where events go wrong.
  • Drama: is the place where things have fallen apart and the only thing remaining are emotional feelings.

As David Rock says, “Quiet leaders are very disciplined in their conversations. They are diligently focused on ensuring that each conversation is as productive as possible in each step and if not, they fix this. They know it’s important to organise the process of each conversation before diving into the contents of a dialogue.”

Getting started with the Focus Model

You can use the Choose Your Focus Model to consciously aim your thoughts at vision and planning.
You can apply the model in various ways, such as:

First write down the focus areas on a flip chart. Explain these at the start of the meeting. Ask whether the participants would find it useful to focus on clarifying the vision and planning the work. It’s also important to ask for permission to interrupt discussions when you notice these have drifted away from the selected focus areas. If you ask for permission first, people will accept that you interrupt them.

When you see discussions that are headed towards details or problems and that will occur at a certain moment, simply point to the flip chart with the five focus areas. This is usually a clear sign for the group. If you must interrupt, ask the question, “What is the focus area in this discussion?”

The Choose Your Focus Model describes five focus level for your thoughts:

Vision
Planning
Detail

Problem
Drama

The essence of this model is that the three levels above the line (vision – planning – detail) are the productive, solution-oriented levels. In various coaching techniques, you go through these three levels when you are looking to achieve something. You must have a positive vision that serves as the basis for planning how to get there, the basis for details on how to start and what you should do in practice. The other two bottom levels (Problem – Drama) are the problem-oriented levels, that are very natural to people but aren’t very productive if you wish to maintain your focus to bring about change.

The Choose Your Focus Model can also be effective in focusing your own thoughts. Have you spent sufficient time on problems today? Perhaps it’s time to consider what you truly want to achieve in the greater whole?

The focus areas are:

  • Vision (for instance, what would you like to achieve? What is the goal?)
  • Planning (for instance, What is the plan? How can you bring about success?)
  • Detail (for instance, Which actions should you take? What should you complete next week?)
  • Problem (for instance, How will you handle these customer complaints?)
  • Drama (for instance, Why do you always fail here?)

Now it’s your turn

What do you think? Are you familiar with the explanation of the focus model or do you have anything to add? When do you think this model is effective? What do you believe are success factors that contribute to the practical application of this theory?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

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More information

  1. Hilton, D. J., & Slugoski, B. R. (1986). Knowledge-based causal attribution: The abnormal conditions focus model. Psychological review, 93(1), 75.
  2. Kelly, J. R., & Loving, T. J. (2004). Time pressure and group performance: Exploring underlying processes in the attentional focus model. Journal of experimental social psychology, 40(2), 185-198.
  3. Leonardelli, G. J., Lakin, J. L., & Arkin, R. M. (2007). A regulatory focus model of self-evaluation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 43(6), 1002-1009.
  4. Rock, D. (2008). SCARF: A brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others. NeuroLeadership Journal, 1(1), 44-52.
  5. Rock, D. (2009). Managing with the brain in mind. PwC Strategy &.
  6. Rock, D. (2010). Your brain at work: Strategies for overcoming distraction, regaining focus, and working smarter all day long. Journal of Behavioral Optometry, 21(5), 130.
  7. Rock, D. (2014). Quiet leadership.
  8. Rock, D., & Page, L. J. (2009). Coaching with the brain in mind: Foundations for practice. John Wiley & Sons.

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