People I look up to have a common characteristic: focus.
They have an incredible ability to pick something to move forward, dedicate incredible energy, to it, and drive it to completion.
And they finish. They ship their creations.
When it comes to focus, my hero is Steve Jobs. Around the time he died, I had a weird obsession with figuring out how he created so much. I watched over 40 hours of him speaking in both rehearsed and unrehearsed moments. I read his Isaacson biography twice, taking notes along the way, then reading and rereading my notes, trying to figure out how he thought, how he approached problems.
What struck me the most? He chose to focus on very few things. I’m convinced that’s one secret to his success.
In his later years at Apple, he would take his “Top 100” people on an annual retreat. They’d brainstorm hundreds of potential ideas to start on a large whiteboard. Then, leading the group, Isaacson said Jobs would ask:
“What are the ten things we should be doing next?” After much jockeying, the group would come up with a list of ten. Then Jobs would slash the bottom seven and announce, “We can only do three.”
Apple was a very large organization. Yet, here Jobs was, dictating that they could focus on only three things across thousands of employees. Hundreds of good ideas, dozens of great ones, and ten fantastic, but only three worthy of their focus. Only three worthy of digging into every detail, worthy of deeply caring about, worthy of pushing forward every single day, until they were good enough to ship.
Reading this inspired me.
I always think of far more ideas than I can finish. It’s a curse of sorts because I feel stress when I can’t get them all done. The mistake isn’t that the ideas aren’t good ones, nearly all of them are good. The mistake is not thinking through how much mental energy I have, how much focus I have to push them through to completion, to get them good enough to ship.
As I look back, distinguishing between my successes and failures is really simple: nearly all of my successes in life have been when I’ve focused on very few things, obsessed over them, and pushed them until they are ready to ship, good enough for my standards. Nearly all of my failures? Starting too many things, saying Yes to too much, or beginning more things than I can finish to my standards. Trying to do too much leads to fragmentation, dysfunction. And despite what you read, there’s no fun in dysfunction.
More and more, my success seems correlated to what I say Yes to and what I say No to.
There’s power in focus.