Steve Jobs & the art of focus
October 11, 2011
Simplicity, among other things, is a conscious choice between inclusion and exclusion. Often the magic is in what you leave out. But this means that you need to be comfortable with saying no, to yourself and to others. This is not easy to do. In the two video clips below from 1997, Steve Jobs shares his ideas on simplicity and focus while speaking to the issue of killing OpenDoc (a software framework standard), a decision that was not popular for many people at the time. Jobs's explanations about his decision sheds more light on his thinking process and how his quest for absolute focus was paramount for creating a vision and strategy which were clear. The lessons contained in these clips are generalizable to business, management, and leadership. (Clip 1.)
"Focusing is about saying no. And the result of that focus is going to be some really great products where the total is much greater than the sum of the parts."
It's not about technology, it's about the experience
There are two lessons in this clip below. The first is about keeping your cool under fire and taking the high road during Q&A, even when things get personal. The gentleman (as Jobs called him) in the audience prefaced his question about OpenDoc with this: "It's sad and clear that on several counts you've discussed, you don't know what you're talking about." He ends his question with "and when you're finished with that, perhaps you could tell us what you personally have been doing for the last seven years?" You would not blame Jobs if he showed irritation, but instead he addresses the question—not by getting into a Java vs. Opendoc debate, that's not the point—by laying out more of his thinking and strategy in simple and clear terms. The second lesson is the actual wisdom of his thinking concerning technology, which touches on the line of thinking which says it's not the thing that's important, it's the *experience* of the thing.
"You've got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology. You can't start with the technology and try to figure out where you're going to try and sell it.....we have tried to come up with a strategy and a vision for Apple, it started with “What incredible benefits can we give to the customer? Where can we take the customer?” Not starting with “Let’s sit down with the engineers and figure out what awesome technology we have and then how are we going to market that?” And I think that’s the right path to take."
— Steve Jobs
Great post! Thanks for highlighting Steve Jobs' key moments that illustrated communication skills.
Posted by: Jasper | October 12, 2011 at 01:10 AM
Garr, while I think you are right to point out Steve Jobs' strengths, especially his focussing on what experience can be sold the customer - history has proved him right over and over on this - I think there is also a weakness in his willingness to elide and apparently demote technology.
Indeed there is a tendency to think only if we present like Steve Jobs (and by implication not like Bill Gates) will we get our message across. What do we do if we need to talk about technology? Apple can only sell cool gadgets if someone actually creates the technology on which they run. Of course, Jobs was also a master at spinning technology. I had an interesting discussion with someone over the weekend who was totally sold on the high resolution of the "retina" display, despite the fact that image resolution is not as important to humans as pattern recognition and movement - your own recent post about babies recognizing as a case in point. I guess I'm making two points - what do you do if you have a technical subject that you have to present on? Jobs was fantastic at giving values and names to technology sorting it into good technology (anything Apple was using) and bad technology (anything with numbers) but maybe occasionally missing out. I remember OpenDoc and think it would have fit very well into the mobile world except maybe for the fact that it was, well, open.
Posted by: Charlie Clark | October 12, 2011 at 02:54 AM
Apple is very beautiful and useful I would recommend.
Posted by: rüya tabirleri | October 12, 2011 at 05:30 AM
inspiring lesson ....
Posted by: mobiliário de sala | October 12, 2011 at 09:52 AM
Steve Jobs was my Idol！
Posted by: moncler jassen | October 12, 2011 at 11:55 AM
Thanks Garr, and man is this hard. Most of our market summaries start off with how big the market is, not how small we can make it with focus. Bright shiny things will be the death of us all.
Just a note to add to this thought:
The most valuable semiconductor company in the world does only one step in the process: ASML with Lithography
The most valuable solar company makes only one module: First Solar with CdTe tech.
The most valuable company in the world got there with only four products - each one done one at a time: an ipod, iTunes, iPhone, iPad.
Amazing when you think about how focus can lead to greatness.
Posted by: Mike | October 12, 2011 at 02:31 PM
@Charlie Clark, OpenDoc was not killed because it was open. It was killed because it was a product too early to market. If Steve Jobs learned anything from his early years, it was that most failed projects fail because the consumer is not yet ready for it. Being first to market is a death sentence because you waste a lot of time educating the public about it rather than selling it.
Imagine the wasted resources if Apple had kept it alive for the past 14 years until the market was ready for it.
Posted by: Susan Rubinsky | October 13, 2011 at 11:42 PM
Garr, these are great clips to illustrate your point on focus. Very helpful reminders personally as well. Thank-you sir.
Posted by: Jason | October 14, 2011 at 11:13 AM
Both clips, and their messages, are outstanding.
Focus on the customer applies to speakers who should focus on the audience.
It's not about the speaker. It's about the audience, and when the focus is taken off them and put on you, the speaker, things go bad.
Thanks, for the Post, Garr!
Posted by: Fred E. Miller | October 14, 2011 at 08:22 PM
Steve Jobs will be alive forever alive in our hearts and hands :-)
Posted by: Albert | October 16, 2011 at 05:14 AM
Steve Jobs... Great man.
Posted by: Pizza Tarifi | October 19, 2011 at 03:36 AM
Steve Jobs...he changed my life. Nice videos, thanks.
Posted by: Eric Lenhard | October 19, 2011 at 07:27 PM
He was a genious! He changed the life of every person!
Posted by: Ultimissime | October 20, 2011 at 10:57 PM
He truly was an inspirational man and an idol for many including me.
Great videos, thanks
Posted by: araba oyunları | October 21, 2011 at 06:38 AM
Great clip and a great article!
Posted by: keynote speaker | October 27, 2011 at 06:11 AM
I would like to remind people that Jobs had more employees in China than in the US --genius but not perfect.
Posted by: John | October 27, 2011 at 11:46 PM
I think Apple's a fantastic example of marketing done extremely well. Despite making similar products of identical parts, they've managed to amass a large cult following that are loyal to the core. That didn't happen by accident.
Posted by: Motivational Speakers | October 29, 2011 at 03:21 AM