Innovation is saying “No” to 1,000 things

A “no” uttered from deepest conviction is better and greater than a “yes” merely uttered to please, or what is worse, to avoid trouble. — Mahatma Gandhi

This story comes to us courtesy of Nike CEO, Mark Parker.  He said shortly after becoming CEO, he talked to Steve Jobs on the phone.

“Do you have any advice?”  Parker asked Jobs.  “Well, just one thing,” said Jobs. “Nike makes some of the best products in the world.  Products that you lust after.  But you also make a lot of crap.  Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff.”  Parker said Jobs paused and Parker filled the quiet with a chuckle.  But Jobs didn’t laugh.  He was serious. “He was absolutely right,” said Parker.  “We had to edit.

Nike makes some of the best products in the world. Products that you lust after. But you also make a lot of crap. Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff.

Jobs followed this very advice himself back in 1998 when he shrunk Apple’s product line from 350 to 10. So instead of creating 350 crappy products, or 200 mediocre products, or 100 good products Apple focused on creating 10 incredibly designed products.

The lesson here is that if your ultimate goal is to produce outstanding work, no matter which industry you’re in, you must be comfortable with the fact that most of the work you produce you’ll have to throw out. Jobs says it best:

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying “no” to 1,000 things.

Whether it’s design or business strategy subtraction adds value. Nobody produces all masterpieces. You’ve got to edit it down and throw away the crappy stuff. Take away unnecessary hardware parts from your computer, unnecessary code and features from your app, unnecessary products from your offering, extra words from your presentation. This is not easy, it took guts to take away a physical keyboard from a smartphone but the results have been astounding. Throw away the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff.


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