Steve Jobs and the Power of Focus

by Chris Young

 If I am to be the artisan that I intend to be, I must become focused.  Not more focused, but FOCUSED.


Steve Jobs considered Jony Ive to be his "spiritual partner at Apple."  Ive was recently interviewed at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit, and he was asked about three life lessons he learned from Steve Jobs, he offered some of the most sage advice that I have ever heard:   

  1. Focus.  Truly focus.

  2. Say, "No," to something that you think is a phenomenal idea.

  3. Stop being vain. Vanity destroys focus.


Jony Ive's transcribed comments may be found at the end of this post.

What is keeping you from being focused?

Yoda was right - "Do. Or do not - there is not try."

I dislike the word try, "Try" represents mediocrity to me.  "Try," suggests the preparation for an impending failure because the initial commitment was not 100 percent.  People who use the word "try" are already apologizing - already making excuses - for not doing what they say they are going to do.  

So many endeavors are sabotaged by the words "I will try." 

Being focused lives in the same vein.  You either are focused or you are not.  There is no "I will become more focused".  

I know first hand the cost of not being focused.  In 2013, I visited a Canadian business partner who scared the hell out of me.  He knew that what we did for him - we did well.  Yet he saw us as generalists - not experts.  It was a wake up call that I am grateful for. We immediately began the process of becoming laser-focused.  

In the process of becoming focused, we stopped doing some things that were very profitable for us.  We threw out over 1,000 web and blog pages that did not fit our focus.

Today, we do one thing.  We help use our Moneyball Algorithm to help our Clients hire the kind of salespeople that scare the hell out of the competition.  

Our Prospects, Clients, and team members are no longer confused about what we do.  

As a leader - I am not focused.  As a leader, I can do a profoundly better job of emulating my company's vision.  I can do a profoundly better job of managing my time.  I can do a profoundly better job of making decisions and executing them.  As a leader, I can be profoundly better, simply by being focused.  

Say, "No," to some phenomenal idea because you have another focus. 

I have come to a harsh realization:  I am not as focused as I must be to achieve the goals I expect to achieve.  
I have been distracted listening to good ideas from intelligent, talented  professionals who want to offer their services to our Clients.  I have chased a lot of good ideas down a lot of rabbit holes. I have listened to sales pitches where 10 minutes into a 30-minute call I am thinking, "This is never going to be right for me."  This lack of focus has cost me in the past.  

Since our rebranding in April, we have narrowed the focus at The Rainmaker Group and are holding one another accountable to maintaining that level of focus.  We make "stop doing lists" that we actually stop doing in order to honor our commitment to our focus.  

We help use our Moneyball Algorithm to help our Clients hire the kind of salespeople that scare the hell out of the competition.     

That is our focus. Period.   

Are you vain?

Of course you are!  

So am I.  I care too much about what others think and I need my ego stroked once in a while.  I have allowed my vanity distract me and influence my decisions, and being vain has cost me my focus, time and time again.  

Vanity turns your attention toward yourself and away from your focus.  And when you are vain, you lie prey to outside influence and countless time-wasting distractions.  

If you want to be focused, and I mean truly "Steve Jobs" focused, you must lay vanity on the altar.  

You can be focused or you can be vain.  You cannot be both.  

A powerful antidote to vanity is candor.  Jack Welch labeled it right in his book Winning, "Lack of candor basically blocks smart ideas, fast action, and good people contributing all the stuff they've got. It's a killer. When you've got candor - and you'll never completely get it, mind you - everything just operates faster and better."

Throw down the gauntlet!  It is time to get focused.

What is distracting you from being focused?  Make a "stop doing list" and then stop doing it.  

Do not try.  Do.

Say "No," to big ideas.  Sacrifice for your focus.

Spend less time worrying about what others think.

Actively choose to be focused.  

Sales Personality Aptitude Test Sample Assessment  

Jony Ive's transcript:

This sounds simplistic, but it still shocks me how few people really practice this. And it's a struggle to practice, but it's this issue of focus. Steve was the most remarkably focused person I've ever met in my life.  

And the thing with focus is, it's not this thing you aspire to, or you decide on Monday, 'You know, I'm going to be focused.' It is a every minute, 'Why are we talking about this? This is what we're working on.' You can achieve so much when you truly focus.

And one of the things Steve would say...  Because I think he was concerned that I wasn't, heh...  He would say, 'How many things have you said no to?' And I would have these sacrificial things, because I wanted to be very honest about it, so I said no to this, and no to that, but he knew that I wasn't vaguely interested in doing those things anyway, so there was no real sacrifice. 

What focus means is saying no to something that you with every bone in your body you 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.

... the third one actually reflects poorly on myself. I was having a conversation with him and I remember asking him why it could have been perceived in his critique of a piece of work he was a little bit too harsh. We'd been putting out heart and soul into this. I said, couldn't we be a bit more, couldn't we moderate the things we said? 

And he said, 'Well, why?'

And I said, 'Because I care about the team.'

And he said this brutally brilliantly insightful thing, what he said was, 'No Jony, you're just really vain.'


'No, you just want people to like you. And I'm surprised at you because I thought you really held the work up as the most important, not how you believed you were perceived by other people.'

And I was terribly cross because I knew he was right.