Steve Jobs's Strategy? "Get Rid of the Crappy Stuff"

In this excerpt from The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs, author Carmine Gallo recounts what Steve Jobs told Nike CEO Mark Parker, and provides a glimpse into Apple's strategy of focused simplicity.

On April 21, 2010, Fast Company magazine sponsored a conference called Innovation Uncensored. Nike president and CEO Mark Parker was one of the featured speakers. Parker told the story of what transpired when, shortly after he became CEO, he got a call from Steve Jobs.

The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs"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. Absolutely beautiful, stunning products. But you also make a lot of crap. Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff."

Parker told his audience, "I expected a little pause and a laugh. There was a pause but no laugh. He was absolutely right. We have to edit."

Parker used the word edit not in a design sense but in the context of making business decisions. Focus leads to great designs. It also leads to good business decisions. Tim Cook once commented that a traditional management philosophy taught in business schools is to reduce risk by diversifying your product offerings. Apple, he said, represents the anti--business school philosophy. Apple's approach is to put its resources behind a few products and commit to making those products exceptionally well.

"Apple is a $30 billion company yet we've got less than 30 major products. I don't know if that's ever been done before," Steve Jobs told Fortune magazine in 2008. He added:

Certainly the great consumer electronics companies of the past had thousands of products. We tend to focus much more. 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 many of the things we haven't done as the things we have done. The clearest example was when we were pressured for years to do a PDA, and I realized one day that 90% of the people who use a PDA only take information out of it on the road. They don't put information into it. Pretty soon cell phones are going to do that, so the PDA market's going to get reduced to a fraction of its current size, and it won't really be sustainable. So we decided not to get into it. If we had gotten into it, we wouldn't have had the resources to do the iPod. We probably wouldn't have seen it coming.

Early in Apple's history, lead investor Mike Markkula sent a memo to Apple's employees that outlined his marketing strategy. In that memo he talked about the importance of focus. Markkula wrote, "To do a good job of those things that we decide to do, we must eliminate all the unimportant opportunities, select from the remainder only those that we have the resources to do well, and concentrate our efforts on them.

In product design and business strategy, subtraction often adds value. "Whether we're talking about a product, a performance, a market, or an organization, our addiction to addition results in inconsistency, overload, or waste, and sometimes all three," writes Matthew May.30 Aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry could have been summing up the Apple philosophy when he said, "A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."

Let's get back to the question asked earlier in the book: can any company innovate the way Apple does? Again, the answer is no. Anyone can learn the principles that drive Apple's innovation, but innovation takes courage, and few people have it. It takes courage to reduce the number of products a company offers from 350 to 10, as Jobs did in 1998. It takes courage to remove a keyboard from the face of a smartphone and replace those buttons with a giant screen, as Jobs did with the iPhone. It takes courage to eliminate code from an operating system to make it more stable and reliable, as Apple did with Snow Leopard. It takes courage to eliminate all of the words on a PowerPoint slide except one, as Steve Jobs often does in a presentation. It takes courage to feature just one product on the home page of a Web site. It takes courage to launch fewer new products in a year than your competitors launch in a month. It takes courage to adopt unpopular stands, such as saying Adobe flash is unfit for the modern mobile era, as Jobs did in April of 2010. And it takes courage to make a product so simple that a child can use it.

Do you have the guts to keep things simple? Steve Jobs does, and it's been crucial to his success.

From The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo, reprinted with permission from McGraw-Hill Professional, 2010.

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10 Comments

  • Ted Santos

    At some point, our society
    will have to outgrow the notion that there are characteristics of a leader that
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  • pamelahawley

    I'm impressed here by Jobs' dedication to the principles that made Apple successful--those principles of simplicity, quality, and focus on the right products.

    I believe that for business owners, if you are managing a team, performing sales, constructing operations, and working on human resources, we should do as best as we can to stick with Principle. Both ethical principles, and the principle of maintaining a company culture. Do the right thing, where you can, at all times. And this isn’t easy. It takes energy, forethought, deepest consideration. It’s moment by moment, hourly, daily, monthly…

    For example, even if sales are slow, if you focus on building genuine relationships where you are helping people, eventually the right clients and revenue will come through. Success is not just the win, the new client. It’s the process of living rightly, which then brings in a positive result.

    Sincerely,
    Pamela Hawley
    Founder and CEO
    UniversalGiving™

    phawley@universalgiving.org
    http://www.universalgiving.org

    Living and Giving blog
    http://www.pamelahawley.wordpr...

  • Scott Asai

    Focus on your strengths and do what you do best. If you do too many things, you're not doing them at a high level. Think about when you hire a specialist. You pay them to do one thing. Stick to what you know and be the best at it!

  • Randall Benson

    While many executive teams have a strategy for success, so few have a strategy for breakthrough -- a strategy that uses at least a 5 year horizon, that has a very limited number of breakthrough goals, and the strategic initiatives to support those goals. I think it takes both imagination and courage to plan for breakthrough. Apple is a shining beacon in that regard. Great article!

  • CEO_Nick

    Steve Jobs is someone that a lot of us can look up to. His leadership styles may be different but look what he has done with his business and the way he has been able to brand themselves. He has created a large group of loyal customers who will wait in line for hours before a new product launch, simply amazing.

    With the way this company has grown in the recent years, I wish that other companies would attempt to follow suit. About a year ago my business was sputtering with the down turn of the economy but I decided I had to take responsibility. I called Action Coach, which is a professional business coaching firm and they have really made a difference in my life.

    I am getting away from the point of the article but if you want to check them out you can go to www.coachmybusiness.net

    Steve Jobs has done a great job guiding his business and I can only hope that others continue to look up to him as a leader and attempt to do the things which he has accomplished.

  • jolly moore

    "It takes courage to adopt unpopular stands, such as saying Adobe flash is unfit for the modern mobile era, as Jobs did in April of 2010." ...ummm then what is it when you double-back and allow Flash tools for creating apps for the iphone?

    http://www.electronista.com/ar...

    Apple could be a flash in the pan, no pun intended, in the developer market if Adobe grew the balls needed to pull its products lines from the MAC. Why would you continue to provide the industry standard toolset to a platform that is against your existence Adobe? The truth is that the world, people and computers included, trend toward what they identify with.

    In the case of Apple, the users want brand recognition, stability at the cost of functionality, and homogeneity.

    In the case of Microsoft, users want options for different hardware brands, will sacrifice stability for additional functionality, and value a unique experience.

    Steve Jobs is interested in controls, both on innovation and experience. How exactly does "courage" fit into that mold.

  • wildcatherder

    I was following this right up to the point about removing all but one word from a PowerPoint slide.
    I think this example shows the appearance-more-important-than-the-product side of Apple. Which is the "crappy stuff"..

  • Dan Brantley

    The Apple TV is actually an excellent example of the article's premise. The latest Apple TV is much simpler than the previous version, and considering Apple's increasing focus on media and delivery fits right into their strategy. Not to mention that selling a million units or so a month would take it out of the "hobby" category... at almost any other company but Apple.

  • LukeK

    Given the Apple TV's status as a "hobby", what does that say about the product's stature when paralleled with Job's emphasis on focus? I suppose it's "kinda crap."