Steve Jobs’ biographer, Walter Issacson, tells how when Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 the company was producing a “random array of computers computers and peripherals, including a dozen different versions of the Macintosh.”  After a frustrating series of what probably felt like a never ending march of product briefings, Jobs called for a stop. “Here’s what we need.” He then drew a two-by-two matrix on a whiteboard with “consumer” and “pro” along the top and “desktop” and “portable” along the side.

That was it: four “great products,” one in each area. All other products were to be canceled. Issacson believes Jobs saved the company (and put it on the path to its current success) with that one move. Jobs said, “Deciding on what not to do is as important as deciding what to do. That’s true for companies, and it’s true for products.”

Distractions have always been with us. Today’s technology just opens the door wider and lays out the welcome mat. This, coupled with the ubiquity and zero cost of information make it harder than ever to focus ourselves, and our organizations.

During my time with the late Stephen Covey he taught me that in order to effectively say “no” there had to be a bigger “yes” burning inside me. Something more important; a higher priority; a clear and focused end-in-mind. Here are three starter questions, with follow-ups, to help you get to that bigger yes for your business:

  • Who are your primary customers and what business problem(s) are you helping them solve?
  • What are the most important priorities in your business and does everyone in your business share these priorities?
  • What business uncertainties are keeping you awake at night and who are you going to talk with about them and when? (If they’re still keeping you awake, they have not been resolved. You might want to talk with someone who can give you a fresh perspective or perhaps some insight into the issue.)

In Other Words…

“He well knew his mind’s natural tendency to be endlessly on a thousand subjects at once, to flit from this to that and to the next thing to no particular purpose–indeed, he called it his “butterfly mind.” ― Eric Metaxas, Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery

“You can do anything, but you can’t do everything” ― David Allen

“As with our colleges, so with a hundred ‘modern improvements;’ there is an illusion about them; there is not always a positive advance. The devil goes on exacting compound interest to the last for his early share and numerous succeeding investments in them. Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive at…” ― Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers/Walden/The Maine Woods/Cape Cod

“Jobs insisted that Apple focus on just two or three priorities at a time. “There is no one better at turning off the noise that is going on around him,” Cook said. “That allows him to focus on a few things and say no to many things. Few people are really good at that.” ― Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs

“What you focus on expands. So focus on what you want, not what you do not want.” ― Esther Jno-Charles

“Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” ― Samuel Johnson, The Life of Samuel Johnson LL.D. Vol. III

In The Word…

“Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you.” – Proverbs 4:25

In Linked Words…

Does knowing help you focus better? Ask Penn & Teller