Steve Jobs: Innovation is Saying "No" to 1,000 things

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Nike CEO, Mark Parker says that shortly after becoming CEO and working on Nike+ with Apple he talked to Steve Jobs on the phone. "Do you have any advice?"' Parker asked Jobs. Here is what Jobs had to say:

Nike makes some of the best products in the world. Products that you lust after. But you also make a lot of crap. Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff.

"He was absolutely right," said Parker. "We had to edit."'

Jobs followed this very advice himself back in 1998 when he shrunk Apple's product line from 350 to 10. So instead of creating 350 crappy products, or 200 mediocre products, or 100 good products Apple focused on creating 10 incredibly designed products. You can sense the urgency of shrinking the product line in this 1997 WWDC discussion Jobs had with the crowd of developers.

The lesson here is that if your ultimate goal is to produce outstanding work, no matter which industry you're in, you must be comfortable with the fact that most of the work you produce you'll have to throw out. Jobs says it best:

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying "no" to 1,000 things.

Whether it's design or business strategy subtraction adds value. Nobody produces all masterpieces. You've got to edit it down and throw away the crappy stuff. Take away unnecessary hardware parts from your computer, unnecessary code and features from your app, unnecessary products from your offering, extra words from your presentation. This is not easy, it takes guts to take away a physical keyboard from a smartphone but the results can be astounding. Throw away the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff.

Update: There is an important point we forgot to mention in this post which we talk about in the follow-up post: Innovation is About Exploring 1,000 Things Worth ThrowingA'Away

It has 8 comments.

Danny (ZURB) says

Amen! I love this article. Love this quote: "People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all." If you expand on this what he really means is that taking stuff away is what aids in building a great product. Just as you say the minute they took parts away from their laptops the started producing great hardware. This is why Steve always has just one word on his presentation. Inspiring. Thanks.

Dan (ZURB) says

Great article! I absolutely agree, the focus on the important and/or unique aspects of a product or business, that is the key. But it is always the challenge, too. During a business day there are always influences - feedbacks, new ideas etc. - 'trying' to distract you from those key aspects. So, thanks for this reminder.

Dmitry, please note that the link to the "Jobs' 1997 WWDC discussion" does not work.

Thanks + best, Dan

Dmitry (ZURB) says

@Dan - thanks for the quick shout. Link fixed. Glad you you enjoyed the post. It's an important message! On the flip side you do need to explore enough products so that you have something you can edit down from. Curious to hear what you thoughts are about this follow-up post:

Dmitry (ZURB) says

@Danny - Right on! It's important to note though that in order to edit down you need to have enough to edit down from. Check out the blog post I shared with Dan above. Curious to hear your thoughts on it.

Marcos Teles (ZURB) says

Somehow, this is what Jack Welch did with GE. Sold the crap and keep the good companies/product.