Focus Part I: Focus Is About Saying No

focusSuccess is not a function of saying yes, but of being willing to say no. Or as Steve Jobs put it, Focus is about saying no.

When Jobs returned as Apple CEO in 1997, Apple offered 20+ different products. Jobs quickly shaved this down to 4. Years later, upon seeing the touchscreen prototype being developed for the ipad, he put the tablet on the shelf for 2 years and turned his focus to the iphone because it was more important. Only after the iPhone was successfully launched did he return to the iPad.

Great leaders know how to focus their people and resources around a single objective.

As a growing business in the exploding ed tech industry, it is very challenging for CollegePlus to maintain a single focus. With so much opportunity in front of us, the natural tendency is to try to do it all. Here are some lessons we’re learning along the way:

1. Focus must be singular – In the past, we’ve had a tendency to have our “Top 10” list of focuses for the year. Now – 1 thing at a time.

2. Maintaining focus takes organizational discipline – Even with a single priority, without discipline and accountability it is so easy to insert a side project that distracts from the single focus, then another, then another. Before you know it, you’re back to the “Top 10” list, still talking about how focused you are but not living a focused organizational life. More on that here. 

3. Focus creates simplicity and clarity – When the entire organization is focused around a single priority, it creates a unique type of simplicity and clarity because everyone is solving the same problem from their unique perspective.

4. Focus creates momentum – In the same way that Dave Ramsey engages his readers to tackle the Debt Snowball, focusing an entire organization around a single project or solution tends to create momentum. As projects are completed and solutions are implemented in a quality way, employees see results and buy in to the next project even more, resulting in better outcomes.

5. Achieving focus will hurt – In order to reorganize around a single focus, we’ve had to do painful things like shut down entire product lines, pare down departments, reassign and in some cases lay off good people. Change is painful, but worth it. Again, focus is about saying no.

For us, focus – real focus – is something new. But already, we can feel that it is a journey worth taking.

This is the first in a two part series on Focus. Read part II here.


Photo credit: Edgar Dacosta / Foter / CC BY

7 thoughts on “Focus Part I: Focus Is About Saying No

  1. Wow great post! In reading this my mind relates it to minimalistic philosophies and practices, especially for design: “the fewest elements are used to create the maximum effect…’minimalist’ is often applied colloquially to designate anything that is spare or stripped to it’s essentials.” (Retrieved from Wikipedia:

    • Great point, Johanna, and thanks for reading/commenting. I like that phrase, “stripped to it’s essentials.” It seems counterintuitive, but it is actually harder to make something simple than it is to make it complex. It requires more focus, but is VERY rewarding.

  2. Steve Jobs’ quadrant diagram was in my head too last week. I think the clarity and focus that we will have over the next year will help us build on what we do best. The clarity reached with this method was my favorite part, and I loved hearing the focus and clarity confirmed by multiple people at the end of the week.

  3. Pingback: Focus Part II: The Secret Ingredient to Focusing Your Team | Bonehead Business

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