Jobs Applied: Focus

“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do” Steve Jobs


One of the major strategic shifts that Steve Jobs made upon returning to the failing Apple in 1997 was to sharpen the focus on the company on creating just a few products… but pouring all of their energy into making those products fantastic.  That’s why even today Apple, arguably the number 1 computer company in the world, only has 46 products.  Only 13 of those are in their core hardware business (the rest are software or accessory products -I found that tidbit here).  Spend a few minutes browsing the Dell website and you can see how remarkable this is.

Isaacson, in the article that spurred this Blog series, describes an annual strategy meeting Jobs would hold with his ‘top 100’ people.  He would ask them to brainstorm what 10 things they should be doing… slowly narrowing all the ideas down until he got to 10.  He’d prioritize them… and then drop the  bottom 7.  This narrowing of priorities down to 2 or 3 is a strategy theme that seems to be everywhere once you look for it.  Perhaps the most well known of these ‘no more than 3 priorities’ advocates is Jim Collins, of ‘Good to Great’ fame.

Create a ‘stop doing’ list. Work is infinite; time is finite. If you have more than three priorities, you have none … – Jim Collins

The principle of playing to our strengths and figuring out what one or two things your firm can be excellent at has been an ongoing theme in our Executive Program in Private Practice Management.   Part of focusing on your strengths is to accept that it is acceptable – perhaps even preferable to be mediocre or even suck at alot of things if you are going to be world-class at anything.   I, for example, am steadily losing my skill at manual therapy.  For the first decade of my career, it was all I thought about.  I obsessed about it, studied it, practiced it… I practically manipulated anyone who I could get to lie down on my portable manipulation table.  I did my best to put in Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours.  Now I’m focusing on other things – such as learning to write better blog posts.  If I want to become a master at THIS, then I can’t spend a big chunk of my time practicing THAT.

“My success, part of it certainly, is that I have focused in on a few things.” — Bill Gates

Our practices, similarly, can’t be amazing at everything.  We probably can’t be the best place for an endurance athlete to be seen and also the best place to go if you have a stroke.  We probably can’t be the women’s health mecca and also the very best at treating cervicogenic headaches.  We could certainly collect some people who have these skill sets – but we as a practice can’t be the best at everything and as the number of therapists gets larger, Cindy’s special skill set in treating elbow pain becomes more and more difficult to use as a differentiation.

“A person who aims at nothing is sure to hit it.” – Anonymous

The lesson the rest of the business world is trying to get across (and that was executed on by Steve Jobs) is that it is better to figure out what you are the BEST at and then use that to differentiate your practice from the others.  Everything else is a distraction and could prevent you from achieving the amazing practice you envision.

Coming up next week…. Simplify.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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7 thoughts on “Jobs Applied: Focus

  1. So true, David! It’s almost like one needs to have a dream or vision & then set the few priorities required to reach the future vision. At the same time, it’s important to accept it’s okay to not be stellar in everything. I think it’s difficult to think this way because our educational system “punishes” us for failures & expects perfect all across the board.

    • Great comment, Selena! Very good point about our educational system and how it lines us up to give equal attention to all sorts of different things. University education probably provides a good example… who gets done and (depending on the major) ends up with a useful degree? The dilettante that learns a little about everything or the hyper-focused student that drives towards that major in (whatever). To be clear, not knocking a broad education, but my point is that in order to be truly great you have to give up being good at everything and focus at being great in a narrower focus.

  2. Enjoyed this timely post David. I suppose the most difficult but critical element is deciding what area to dedicate oneself or one’s organization to in search of greatness. It’s easy to lose the quest for excellence in the urgently of the mundane.

    • Great quote Brian – “it’s easy to lose the quest for excellence in the urgency of the mundane”. Jim Collins (from Good to Great) would say to find your ‘hedgehog concept’ – the intersection of ‘can be the best at’, ‘have a passion for’ and has an ‘economic engine’.

  3. David – This is an excellent post, and it goes hand-in-hand with the concept of playing to your strengths. I find that accepting “good enough” performance from yourself in the areas that are not top priority is difficult when you’ve been taught from an early age to do your very best at all that you take on. In order to really get my mind wrapped around this, I have to think of the idea as you framed it — in order to really prioritize and focus, you must identify other areas where “good enough” is actually good enough. Not easy, but necessary. Thanks for the blog. Julie

    • Thanks Julie! The tendency of our educational system to build in an ‘all As’ mentality has come up a few times on twitter and Facebook conversations on this post as well. It is definitely in our makeup to spread ourselves thin trying to be ‘all things to all people’. I love the concept of figuring out what you can be the very best at and honing in on that. My friend Daphne Scott would call it ‘living in your genius’. We understand the concept of sacrificing one thing to hone in on another that is a better fit – or we’d both be squadron commanders right now!