One remarkable talent of Steve Jobs was that he could focus on one single thing like no other. To be able to take a project and drive it through to near perfection like Steve had done with numerous Apple products is indeed a skill that many people wish they would have.
Looking at Steve’s life and the many anecdotes from people close to Steve, there is important advice we can take away about his intense laser focus.
”What focus means is saying no to something that with every bone in your body think is a phenomenal idea, and you wake up thinking about it, but you end up saying no to it because you’re focusing on something else.” — Jony IveJONY IVE: This Is The Most Important Thing I Learned From Steve Jobs
It can be hard to battle shiny object syndrome. The grass always seems greener on the other side, especially when you’re working hard at something with little to no immediate return. Insecurity creeps up at one point and you’re wondering if that new idea isn’t actually more suitable for you or your project.
You probably don’t even realise how quickly you can jump ship, so the first step to saying no is at least identifying each time you’re tempted to drop your work for something new or someone else.
Yes, people may think you’re an asshole. Yes, you may come over as stubborn and otherworldly. But it’s the dedication and confidence of taking a single thing through to completion that made Steve so successful at his craft.
Simplify, Simplify, Simplify
A laser-focus can only be achieved if you keep cutting away all the irrelevant things on your path to get to the core, the essence of what you’re working on. Do not hesitate to kill any darlings or going against the established in the process. Consider how many things you can chip away from your product in order to highlight its core.
Steve (in)famously sacrificed many products and features that many thought they couldn’t live without. Most notable are the disappearance of the floppy drive and optical drive in respectively the iMac and the 2008 Macbook Air.
Jobs saving Apple after returning to the company in 1997 had everything to do with cutting down Apple’s product line to four products; a desktop and portable device for professionals and a similar offering for consumers.
Apple is continuing Steve’s legacy by killing off established standards with every other iteration of their products. Connection ports and headphone jacks are all being sacrificed in favour of simplicity and elegance. Being pre-emptive in identifying the dying breeds does carry significant risks of backfiring, but in case of Apple, the industry has mostly followed suit with their historic decisions.
”In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few” — Shunryu SuzukiZen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
A beginner’s mind or Senshin is a Zen concept in which you look at challenges with a fresh, naïve perspective. By doing this you will rule out any cognitive bias you hold from past experiences.
Creating successful consumer products requires a deep focus on user experience. It was exactly this that Steve (being a Zen-adept) could do so well because he was able to maintain his original, unbiased attitude towards his work.
The beginner’s mind is eager to learn and open to diversity in thinking. This openness especially showed in the ‘older’ Steve allowing for cooperations that changed industry landscapes like the ones with John Lasseter (Chief Creative Officer at Disney Pixar) and Jony Ive (Chief Design Officer at Apple)
If you want to tap into a beginner’s mind yourself there are a few key ingredients for doing so:
- Focus on questions instead of answers
- Always look past common sense
- Remove ‘should’ from your vocabulary
- Embrace saying ‘I don’t know.’
A formula for success
There is no doubt that Steve Jobs’ relentless focus proved to be the foundation for creating a dent in different industries. With choosing the right talented individuals who, just like Steve, were able to the product before emotion he created a breeding ground for the success that catapulted Apple to be the highest valued company today.