January 2, 2012

464 words 3 mins read

A Maniacal Focus for 2012

I’m almost finished reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Apple co-founder and genius Steve Jobs.

Jobs’s life left insanely good lessons. Some lessons instruct us on how to do things. Others warn us of bad things to avoid.

One of the good things Steve Jobs taught us:  focus.  Maniacal focus on things that mattered, and a pathological aversion to distractions.

One example.  When Jobs returned to Apple after 10-year exile, he took stock of all the projects underway.  He found dozens of development and research efforts.  Most of them were, in his words, “shit.”

The product review revealed how unfocused Apple had become. The company was churning out multiple versions of each product because of bureaucratic momentum and to satisfy the whims of retailers. “It was insanity,” Schiller recalled. “Tons of products, most of them crap, done by deluded teams.”

–Isaacson, Walter (2011-10-24). Steve Jobs (p. 337). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Jobs killed 70 percent of those products.

Jobs was famously direct, blunt, rude. When people on an Apple product team heard Steve Jobs call their work “shit,” it stung. Not only that, the project cancellations put people’s jobs in jeopardy.

Finally, Jobs gave one of the insulted teams a great reason for his harsh assessment of their work.

“You are bright people,” he told one group. “You shouldn’t be wasting your time on such crappy products.”

–Isaacson, Walter (2011-10-24). Steve Jobs (p. 337). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

To help the people focus, he drew a simple diagram on a whiteboard.


From dozens of projects, the new Apple would focus on only four, one for each quadrant in this simple drawing.

I know a lot of bright people who get lost in a sea of good ideas. We’re taught from birth to look for opportunities everywhere, to never tell others “no” when they ask us to pitch in and help.

But if you say “yes” to every good idea, you’ll never ship the great ones.

I don’t believe in New Years’ resolutions, but I do believe in using milestones as checkpoints. And the start of a new calendar year is as good checkpoint as any. So here’s my focus for 2012.

Spiritual: Say the Rosary every day.

Work: Create one insanely great new thing in 2012, all the way to market.

Civic: Through The After Party program, begin a new era of effective citizenship in St. Louis

Family:  Be present in the precious little time I spend at home

Four areas of life. One focus for each.

None of these is new. But reading the Jobs biography reminded me that it’s critically important to remain focused.  Yes, I’ve deviated from Jobs’s two-customer model. For good or ill, my life includes four customer types, each holding a warrantee that I must honor.