The Power of Focus — Lessons from Steve Jobs

When Steve Jobs went back to Apple, as he quickly made his way from being a simple acquisition target to its interim CEO, he did something that few at the time thought was good.

He essentially whittled down Apple's large production line down nearly 70%. Apple got out of the printer business, trashed the Newton, and reduced the number of different Macintosh devices down to four. When he had first re-joined the company, Apple was “less than ninety days from being insolvent.” (pg. 339). Then, within about a year's time, the company went from deep losses to almost three hundred million dollars in profit.

Such was the power of focus.

There are, of course, others that say the same thing. From Amazon to Facebook to others, CEOs and other successful entrepreneurs have similar ideas when it comes to focus. Ripple's current CEO, Brad Garlinghouse, is well-known for his Peanut Butter Manifesto, in which he talks about the need for companies to make sure they don't spread themselves too thin (like peanut butter), but rather focus when they're creating products.

But just because one focuses on a few things doesn't mean they will automatically have success. Rather, in Jobs' eyes, it was also making sure they created great products. In his own words:

My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products. Everything else was secondary. Sure, it was great to make a profit, because that was what allowed you to make great products. But the products, not the profits, were the's a subtle difference, but it ends up meaning everything: the people you hire, who gets promoted, what you discuss in meetings. (pg. 567)

Spoken while thinking about his own legacy, and quite clear throughout the entire biography, Jobs' number one goal was to make things that were not just new and exciting, but also beautiful and elegant to use.

In fact, it's the lack of desire to create a great product that Jobs associates with declining companies. In talking about companies like IBM and Microsoft, he said:

The company does a great job, innovates and becomes a monopoly or close to it in some field, and then the quality of the product becomes less important. The company starts valuing the great salesmen, because they're the ones who can move the needle on the salespeople end up running the company. (pg. 569)

I think this can be especially poignant when thinking about start up companies that are creating entire new fields, like many current crypto companies. Obviously, none of them are legacy monopolies, but they are often the only ones creating a product in a brand new category. Without competition (thus, effectively monopolies), it becomes easy for them to stop innovating after an initial launch point, because there's really nothing else like it out there. Yet, very few (if any, yet) crypto-based businesses have created anything that is even ready for mass adoption.

It's almost like the early days of consumer computing, when personal computers were really made for hackers and tinkerers. This was the brilliance behind Jobs' approach to the computer industry. He knew that the computers (and later, phones) which were going to be adopted en masse were the ones that would not only be easy for consumers to use, but also something consumers would love using. Thus came the graphical interface revolution, the cursor- and icon-based interaction, and the all-in-one form factor that most people are used to today.

And so, the argument could be made that success is not only due to the power to focus, but also due to bringing together like-minded and similarly-driven individuals that form a cohesive whole in a unified effort to make a great product that people would want to use.


Note: This highlight is edited from a previous subscriber-only post I made reviewing Walter Isaacson's book, Steve Jobs. All highlight posts I make are meant to be snippets from previous posts that I think are really important.

Header Image credit to Pixabay.