Saying No

I recently read an interesting collection of Steve Jobs quotes assembled by Bruce Temkin. One in particular caught my attention;

"And it comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much. We’re always thinking about new markets we could enter, but it’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important."

This notion is perhaps the hardest concept to implement for many organizations. Focusing on what is really important is hard because it requires groups of people to prioritize opportunities, and further to define the criteria for deciding about what is important.

Why don't more executive teams focus on "things that are really important?" In our experience, this kind of focus tends to constrain their future options. They prefer to have all their "balls in the air" at once to improve the chances that some will succeed. Or at least this is what they tell us. This way, one can't be accused of making the wrong choices. The logic continues, "Why limit my options?" Yet all those "options" suck up valuable resources and distract focus.

Steve Jobs was proven correct; he said no, killed projects, focused finite resources on a few things, and achieved results against "unreasonable" goals. It was in fact a portfolio strategy that worked.