Earlier this month, I read Steve Jobs, the autobiography of the great innovator and tech giant. Throughout the book, a central message was evident in Jobs’ life, and seemed to be the overarching theme of his work at Apple.
The ability to focus on what truly matters to the product and the user is a difficult task. Adding on features, colors, and copy can distract from what truly makes a product or service unique and special.
In Jobs’ final weeks, he invited Google CEO Eric Schmidt to his home to give advice on how to be the type of CEO who built a lasting company. Here’s what Jobs stressed to Schmidt:
“Focus. Figure out what you want to be when you grow up. Right now you’re all over the map. What are the five products you want to focus on? Get rid of the rest, because they’re dragging you down.”
My biggest resolution in the coming new year is to get focused in 2014. Now for the past several months, focus has been my mantra, if not my everyday practice. Jobs’ insistence that simplicity is not easy has never been more obvious. Picking and honing your focus is a strenuous and difficult task. Focusing means you say no to many different opportunities, because they don’t fit. Focus means cutting away the clutter in your work and life so you can see the few things which really matter.
Focusing is difficult because of the fear of missing out, thinking I need to be ready for the next big thing to present itself. But what I’m missing out on is the opportunity to continually go deeper in the task I’m focusing on. This short story symbolizes the lesson well.
Two men, Jack and John, own adjoining fields during the gold rush. Jack picks a spot where he sees little gold flakes, and begins to dig. John does the same, and they spend the day digging. The next morning, Jack returns to the same hole and continues to dig. As John is walking to his hole, he sees a glint of gold a few yards away. He immediately runs over and spends the day digging this new hole. The same routine continues for several months.
One day, far below the earth, Jack’s shovel strikes something hard. He digs a little deeper to find a vein of gold running through his land. His persistence has paid off! John hears of his friend’s good fortune, and can’t help but look at his own field, marked with countless holes about as deep as he is tall. Which man are you?
A common argument against topical focus is that there are so many mediums in which to tell your story and put your stake in the ground. Think of the problem this way though: the main topic or mission of your company doesn’t change, but how you tell the story and share the mission can. Google spent a lot of time refining their search engine before branching off in to mail, docs, and more. Apple began with computers, spending the first 17 years as a company just building computers and software. Then of course came the iPod, iTunes, iPhone, and iPad.
Your missional focus doesn’t change, you simply pivot on how you’re telling the message, based on what the numbers and the market are telling you. Here’s another example: Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income is all about teaching people passive income strategies to help make money on the side (or full-time). Pat shares his message through a blog, podcast, and YouTube videos. You see? Why Pat does something doesn’t change, but how he shares it might be different.
Jiro Ono, the famed Sushi chef, has this to say about picking your craft , and not being led by fear:
“Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably.”
As we all move in to 2014, my hope for all of us is to have the courage to say no to a few things, so we can say yes to what truly matters, and will allow us to make a long-term impact on our family, community, and work.
Happy New Year!
What are you focusing on in your life? Are you ruled by the fear of missing out, or choosing the “wrong” focus? If you’ve kept your focus for several months or years, what are some ways you hone your focus and block out distractions? We’d love to hear in the comments.