One of the most fascinating books I’ve read over the past ten years or so is Inside Steve’s Brain by Leander Kahney. In this book, the author unpacks some of the keys to the design and marketing philosophy of Steve Jobs and Apple. Some of the chapter titles are provocative (Focus: How Saying “No” Saved Apple; Elitism: Hire Only A Players, Fire the Bozos).
Jobs was leery of trying to do too many things with Apple. In fact, when he took over Apple again in 1997 after a twelve year absence, he slashed and mothballed a lot of projects in the works. Apple was in deep trouble financially. He made the decision to focus on a few key products and make them superior to anything in the market.
One of the gnats he had to dispense with early on in his second tour with Apple was feature creep. “Feature creep” is the IT design practice of creating all sorts of bells and whistles for any new piece of technology, thus increasing the product’s versatility and, therefore, sales.
Steve Jobs had no patience for feature creep.
This impatience was an outgrowth of his Zen minimalism which, in design terms, meant making technology as simple and user-friendly as possible. So he and his colleagues worked painstakingly to do a few signature Apple devices extremely well. As Jobs’ famous mantra says, “Focus means saying no.”
In the summer of 2011, Apple passed Exxon Mobil as the most profitable corporation in our country. Jobs really knew what he was doing.
As a musician, it’s taken me quite a few years to learn that less is more. Young musicians tend to want to overplay, to “express themselves,” to get everything possible out on their instruments. Over many years, however, I’ve learned that the spaces between the notes I play are as important, sometimes more, as the notes themselves. Or, as Dan Fogelberg said as a young studio musician, “I learned that it’s not what you play, it’s what you don’t play.”
What have you been given? What do you do well? What can you pare down or eliminate to simplify and focus, bringing your contributions to a higher level of excellence? Some suggestions:
- Social media: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. All fascinating platforms but they tend to eat time the way SUV’s suck gas. Limit your involvements–and unnecessary participation in the drama of others, something you really don’t have energy and patience for anyway.
- News media: Consider some other outlet to get your news than the Big 5. BBC or NPR are good places to start. Again, do you really need five different viewpoints on a story?
- Pour the extra time and effort thus gained from limiting your involvements in pointless, time-wasting pursuits into honing skills in your vocation and your avocations. As the song from the Franco Zeffirelli film “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” (1971) says, “Do few things, but do them well.”