Steve Jobs and Jony Ive on Fanatical Focus

“All the successful people I ever met were fanatics about focus.” - Jorge Paulo Lemann

We agree. All the successful people we’ve ever met or read about have/had an uncanny ability to focus.

Let’s add two more people to the list - Steve Jobs and Jony Ive.

Jony Ive, Apple’s chief design officer responsible for designing the iPod, iPhone and iPad, said the following about Steve Jobs:

“I had the most wonderful teacher in Steve. I have never met anybody with his focus. And the effort. It’s not that you sort of decide to be focused one month and you trundle along, but the hourly, the daily, extraordinary effort that it takes to focus.”

Similar to Warren Buffett’s 5/25 rule of saying no to all but your top 5 priorities, Jobs measured focus on how often one said no. Jobs told Ive, “Jony there are certain measures of focus, and one of them is how often you say no.”

But saying no initially was difficult for Jony Ive. He said, “I said no to this. I’ve said no to that. But he [Steve Jobs] knew that I wasn’t vaguely interested in doing those things anyway. So there was no real sacrifice.”

Ive describe focus as saying “no to something that with every bone in your body you think is a phenomenal idea, and you wake up thinking about it, but you say no to it because you’re focusing on something else.” There has to be sacrifice, a cost.

Jony Ive explained his focus during the development of Apple’s face recognition technology. Apple had been working on the technology for five years. Initial prototypes were the size of grapefruits. Today, with the benefit of hindsight, the technology fitting within the iPhone seems inevitable.

Yet, Ive said, “For 99 percent of the time, it [facial recognition technology] didn’t work for us. For the vast majority of the development cycle, all we had were things that failed.”

That brings up an interesting dichotomy. To innovate one must be able to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. That is, on the one hand you must be curious and inquisitive with constant questions, being light on your feet and being prepared to be wrong.

At the same time, if you’re trying to do something new, that means that the reason it hasn’t been done before, is there’s 99 reasons why it hasn’t been done before. “You have to be so resolute and focused, and in some ways blinkered to move between these two behaviors,” added Ive. “It’s exhausting to have to move between what are very different ways of thinking.” But it is possible.

Applying Steve Jobs & Jony Ive’s Focus Yourself

The art of focus helped Steve Jobs and Jony Ive build Apple into one of the most valuable companies today. Simply, they (and their teams) said no to things they cared passionately about. They also were successful in balancing a preparation to being wrong with a focused resoluteness on being right.

If you want to harness focus you need to able to ignore something you care about, putting it to the side, despite its real cost.

For example, one thing I have had to put aside is my music and guitar playing to focus on other endeavors. It’s hard to ignore something that I’ve spent so much time with. It is hard to put aside something I enjoy and am good at. It is a real cost. But I feel it has a lower marginal value. Too many people die with their “music” still unplayed. Don’t get in the habit of feeling like you have something to lose when something better comes around. Life Is Too Short To Worship Sunk Costs.

Do what you do best.

Stop trying to be everything and do everything.

Focus. Pick your strength and RUN.

You can achieve so much when you are truly focused.

Here are a few other articles & videos on Focus you will enjoy:

The Secret to Bajaj Auto’s Success [Video]

The Bridge Burner Model [Members]

Netflix Lesson on Focus

Applying Peter Thiel to Cera Sanitaryware [Members]

Alexander Hamilton on Focus

How Harry Potter Became A $25 Billion Brand [Video]

Sources: Jony Ive on the Artistic Pursuit of Excellence

Apple’s Jony Ive on the Lessons He Learned From Steve Jobs


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Uncanny timing on this, as Jony Ive has announced he is leaving Apple to form his own company.

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