Joe Benesh is a senior architect with Shive-Hattery and President + CEO of the Ingenuity Company, a strategic planning, diagramming, framework development, and design thinking consulting firm.
There are countless blog posts about Steve Jobs. They speak to his work, his personality, his life, the statements he made and the products he created. There is a photo of him in his living room (I’ve included it in this post) where he is sitting on his floor with some tea, a single tiffany lamp, a stereo, and some very large speakers. This photo serves as an important reminder to me – in fact, it’s the wallpaper on my iPhone. I think that his approach to design and how he turned Apple around are critical lessons in strategy.
In the mid-to-late 1990s, Apple was headed for insolvency - too many products, not enough differentiation, poor design, and a mismatch between their target market and their offerings as a company. Then they invited their former CEO back and things changed. Mr. Jobs instilled two simple rules as a basic mission statement for his new regime – do not produce inferior products and only produce very few types of things that are very well executed.
This singularity of purpose and clarity of mission allowed Apple to rally and ultimately turn the company around. It made employees of Apple realize that they were still capable of innovation, still capable to creating “insanely” great products that were met with great enthusiasm upon their introduction. It also started the upward trajectory of Apple becoming the most valuable company in the world - with the most consistently sought-after products in recent memory.
So, why do I keep that photo on my iPhone? Because it reminds me that trying to do too much, or do too many things without being able to do them well, is often worse than not doing them at all. That lacking a singular clarity of purpose can have disastrous results.
When I work with organizations, groups tend to error toward generating a large amount of tactical items. No surprise here – that is consistent with the need for us to want to work something to completion – to “finish” something. But the photo reminds me that putting my pen down and thinking through why I am doing something – developing a strategy or considering other aspects of what I am working on rather than just the end result – is as important as completing a task. Why am I doing this? Am I doing too many things? Is there redundancy? Is there excess? Has quality suffered at the hand of quantity?
But why does the photo make me think in those terms? I look at the lack of frills in the photo and contrast it with how a similar space in my house looks. Is what I have better, or is it just more? A very well crafted lamp. Something to sit on. A very decent stereo. Space to think. I look at the things in the photograph and it is clear that an active decision was made specific to each piece; he seems to have made sure they are the highest quality, and that each serves a singular purpose. No redundancy. No excess.
One of my favorite lines is something Steve Jobs said about putting a “ding in the universe." I think it’s something we all should aspire to do. When putting a strategy together for you or for your organization, I think the lessons I learned from looking at that old photo are applicable at any scale:
- Formulate a clear mission and stick to it.
- Do a few things well instead of many things adequately.
- Do not produce inferior work product.
- Never stop innovating; stay hungry, stay foolish. (Jobs borrowed this line from the Whole Earth Catalog.)
- Do not waste your time on something that is no longer relevant, useful, or applicable.
I think by following these simple guidelines, we can move from the mundane to the aspirational and transformative, find new engagement and passion in our work, and grow our efforts in ways no one may be expecting.
Please follow: @ingenuitycmpny