Monthly Archives: October 2011

Steve Jobs, two letters, one word

Photo: Ben Stanfield, cc flickr

Steve Jobs wasn’t a magician. He didn’t have supernatural powers. He was bound by the same rules of physics, chemistry and biology as all of us. And yet, somehow, he managed in his too-short life to turn extraordinary leaps forward in technology and usability into a nearly commonplace occurrence.

How, then, did he do that? The received wisdom after his death is that he was special, different, cut from a better grade of cloth. And, certainly, he was all of those things. But I wonder if his secret weapon wasn’t something remarkably commonplace. Mundane, even.

Yes, he was smarter than most of us. Yes, he was more driven. Yes, he had an innate sense of what would work and an unparalleled ability to motivate people to make those ideas come to life. And, yes, he was the greatest CEO-showman that we’ve ever known.

But, more than all of that, he knew and used the power of one simple word.

“No.”

Without “no,” in your arsenal, it’s easy to get distracted. Without “no,” vision can be destroyed. Without “no,” any project, large or small, will be derailed. But with it, focus is maintained, momentum grows and, ultimately, product ships that is as wonderful in production as it first seemed on the whiteboard or sketchpad.

Here’s Steve Jobs, speaking to the Worldwide Developers Conference in 1997, talking about how he reined in Apple’s developers who were pursuing multiple projects in many different directions, with the power of “no”:

You think focusing is about saying “yes.”

No.

“Focusing is about saying no. And when you say no you piss off people. (But) the result of that focus is going to be some great products where the total is greater than the sum of its parts.”

To me, the most inspiring thing about “no,” whoever uses it well and properly, is that it’s a word that’s available to each of us, if only we’d speak it. Each “no” stands alert, guarding the rare and precious yes that’s at the core of our visions. Alone and in concert, these small negatives clear the way for us to focus on the positive outcome we’re all aiming for.

Think about questions like these every time you’re asked to expand the scope of a project, or to take on a new one:

  • Does it fit the vision?
  • Will it get us closer to our goal?
  • Without it, will we be unable to ship?
  • Is it worth killing something else to do this?

If the answer you think is “no,” then you already have your answer. Say it. Aloud. “No.” You may be surprised at how close it’ll get you to the yeses that are most important.

Do that, and we’re honoring the memory of Steve in the best possible way.