For Innovators: Focus Narrowly First, Accelerate Later

Focus on Innovation

Focus on Innovation

To begin, here’s an excerpt from my ‘Harvard Business Review App’ (the full article by Walter Isaacson was published in the March 2012 issue) which ironically refers to one of my favorite management issues: innovations using 2×2 quadrants in order to manage better!

Isaacson: ‘When Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, it was producing a random array of computers and peripherals, including a dozen different versions of the Macintosh. After a few weeks of product review sessions, he’d finally had enough. “Stop!” he shouted. “This is crazy.” He grabbed a Magic Marker, padded in his bare feet to a whiteboard, and drew a two-by-two grid. “What we need,” he declared. Atop the two columns, he wrote “Consumer” and “Pro.” He labeled the two rows “Desktop” and “Portable.” Their job, he told his team members, was to focus on four great products, one for each quadrant. All other products should be canceled. There was a stunned silence. But by getting Apple to focus on making just four computers, he saved the company.  “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do,” he told me. “That’s true for companies, and it’s true for products.” ‘

Back to me, Gideon: Here’s what I learned from the paragraph above, but relating to startup companies rather than Apple & other relatively large tech firms: startups and innovators should not produce an ‘all over the map’ business plan for their first year or two… the complexities should increase relatively slowly over time rather than virtually all at once or within a brief time period! Frankly, I’ve always been inclined to push fast at the start.

Of course the  paragraph above suggests that Job’s ‘quadrant’ had  no relation to Gartner Inc.’s ‘Magic Quadrants’  which are actually not so magic but rather disseminated to clients with lots of text to try and support the validity of the ‘quadrant’, rather than simply to stimulate conversation or to make a point to subordinates as Steve Jobs did!   Yes, and I include the above paragraph to suggest that quadrants ‘in general’ are quite useful when presenting ideas or management directives!

Once finishing the quadrant subject, Isaacson continued: ‘After he righted the company, Jobs began taking his ‘top 100′ people on a retreat each year. On the last day, he would stand in front of a whiteboard (he loved whiteboards, because they gave him complete control of a situation and they engendered focus) and he asked, “What are the 10 things we should be doing next?” People would fight to get their suggestions on the list. Jobs would write them down—and then cross off the ones he decreed dumb. After much jockeying, the group would come up with a list of 10. Then Jobs would slash the bottom seven…’

‘Focus was ingrained in Jobs’s personality and had been honed by his Zen training. He relentlessly filtered out what he considered distractions. Colleagues and family members would at times be exasperated as they tried to get him to deal with issues—a legal problem, a medical diagnosis—they considered important. But he would give a cold stare and refuse to shift his laser-like focus until he was ready.’


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