It looks to me as if Steve Jobs’ laser-like focus has become the buzzword business paradigm in the world. I must admit: the way the zen CEO axed the majority of Apple’s product lines in 1997 to save the company from bankruptcy was super impressive. Focus matters.
But the big question is: when is it the right time to focus? Because so many businesses are shooting themselves in the foot, trying to follow Jobs’ example.
The gist of the problem is this. If you have an insanely great product, you should go all in with focus. You should do what Jim Collins or Al Ries tell you to do. Get the right people on the bus. Identify your unique market and run with it.
This is all perfect advice, if you have a winner in your hands. But in the world that is changing as fast as it is, the odds are you don’t.
Your insanely great product might have been great in 2010. Now it’s just insane. Instead of putting all of your eggs in that basket, you should nix the damn thing altogether.
So what to do?
Creative process is an oscillation between two extremes: divergence and convergence.
Divergence means generating as much as you can, probably testing it with an audience and killing 99% of what you got early. It’s fail often, fail fast. Convergence means focus.
In a world like today’s, you cannot know what flies before you playtest it. In addition to failing often, failing fast, you should ship often. Then use a proper metric, see what sticks, and kill what doesn’t.
There is even a tried and tested fully divergent business model. Zen and Steve Jobs are not the only ways to generate a wicked profit. Just ask Richard Branson or Jack Welch. Both Virgin and GE rely on divergence: on shipping a massive offering, and sticking to what works. In a fast changing world, that’s often a smart strategy.
Most of the Steve Jobs wannabes don’t have a product that would resemble anything like what Apple’s got to offer. And I’m not talking about the iPhone here, not even the iMac that saved the company from disaster in the late 1990’s. Most of the Steve Jobs wannabes don’t even have an Apple II in their hands.
But if you do enough outings, enough playtesting, you might just have something in your hands. And when you do, THAT’S the time when you need to focus.
The beauty of the creative process is that it’s not one thing, but many. Like Linus Pauling said, the best way to get a great idea is to get many ideas.
First, do many things. Often you won’t get the right idea straight off the bat.
But when you know you have something that really lights up your eyes, focus.
After all, the world needs lots more insanely great products.