Thought the comments were so good that I'd comment via a new Post.
(1) BT Hathaway: Yes it does take discipline to stay unfocused. One "trick": telling the Client exactly what you're doing. Presumably he/she wants "Wow" ... it doesn't grow on low-hanging limbs. If she/he doesn't want Wow, you should not be doing the project; on the other hand the Client not pursuing Wow might be induced to step out on the limb when he/she sees Wow. "Wow" falls into that annoying category: I'll only know it when I see it.
(2) pd: Yes! (Re mistakes.) There's a slide in my set quoting David Kelley of IDEO: "Fail faster, succeed sooner." Nice, eh?
(3) Mary Schmidt: "Not everybody is Tom Peters." Yes. No! "Everybody" (of the sort who participate in this Blog) presumably aspires to do "memorable" work. In my opinion in 99 cases of 100 to do memorable stuff requires mucking about "in the problem." One way to have one's cake and eat it too is via the STRATEGY of Rapid Prototyping. That means "action," which may soothe the Client, but not premature indelible closure.
(4) Naina Redhu: Maybe I'll back off of hating "focus." But then I choose to be disingenuous. I do like/love/thrive on focus ... immediately. But how about "100 sequential foci," each of which gets closer to "Wow"? A consulting buddy had an audacious quote he used to use with Clients. Alas, it mostly escapes me, but it went something like this (and I did clearly remember the punch line): "We have studied your problem. We are confused, in fact we are as confused as when we started—but we are confused about bigger and more interesting things." Takes nerve, eh?
(5) Noel Guinane: Your travel story reminds me of a fabulous book I read 20 years ago. Namely Blue Highways, by William Least Heat-Moon. (Is it still true: "blue highways" on a map are the offbeat roads?) Indeed WLHM's adventure was an unbidden discovery voyage—the epitome of all good (great!) project work.
(6) Michael Vanderdonk: More word games on my part. I am always "goal oriented." But my goal is ALWAYS to surprise the Client. And to "do" "surprise" one must be open/unfocused. Eh?
(7) Mark JF: Three plus hearty cheers for MBWA!! (Plus it assuages the Client, because he "sees" you biting into the issue.) (Hiding in one's office is a killer!)
(8) alex ... thank God I'm a lefty. I'm not even sure I have a left brain; well, I guess I do, because I always show up!
TP addition: Engage the Client in a Joint Discovery Process! Try to recruit Client team members/"co-discoverers" known better for their openness & curiosity than their rank.