On focus and saying, NO!

I read several articles in the press this week that provided some insight and a few quotes from the New Yorker’s TechFest and a conversation that Jonny Ive and David Remnick. I wanted to share his comments about focus. 

On Focus, from CNET, as recorded by Ben Fox Rubin

"I had the most wonderful teacher in Steve," Ive said. "I never met anybody with his focus. … The art of focus, even if it's something you care passionately about, it means putting it aside and often it's a real cost. And he was remarkable at that. And there have been a few periods where I've felt I've achieved that focus, and it's a little eery. You do have a sense, boundaries before, impediments before that seemed insurmountable seem trivial and it takes so much effort and is exhausting to sustain. And all of the things we've done have required that focus."

When I worked at ITW, we used the 80/20 principle for making decisions and managing business. Shortly after ITW acquired us, we went through this exercise called ‘product line simplification’. One element of that involved using the 80/20 rule to eliminate product lines or device skews that were not in the 20% of devices that contributed to 80% of profitability. In every case, that always reduced total revenue, but ultimately it would increase profitability.

Saying no is never easy. Customers did complain, and we had to adjust. Often we would find products or devices that filled their need, but were more common.


I have been guilty of wanting  something badly that saying ‘no’ was nearly impossible. Sometimes the tech has been ‘too cool’ and exciting, other times the ideas has been to good to pass. Then there is the $$ signs: the potential revenue often makes a ‘no’ nearly impossible. So, how do you say no? 

Marty Swank recorded the following for AdWeek:  

 “It’s not that you sort of decide to be focused one month,” he said. “But the hourly, daily, extraordinary effort that it takes to focus … And one part of it is how often you say no.”

“The art of focus means ignoring, putting it to the side, and often it’s a real cost.”

Focus requires saying, NO. There are lots of tools that can help, but that’s for another post. I loved this interview. I have seen the impact of a lack of focus many times in my career. I have a sign on my wall that says, “It’s simple until you make it complicated.” It’s a quote from Jason Fried, at BaseCamp, formally 37 signals. Focus is like that. Keep it simple, and stay focused!! 

~ Rick