Steve Jobs had many triumphs at a young age—so much so that Peter Drucker said that Jobs had been cursed by enjoying “too much success too soon.” But Jobs got wiser with the years, and he apparently passed on much of his wisdom to his successor, Tim Cook.
Recently, Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher of The Wall Street Journal spoke to Cook about the future of Apple and asked about some of that imparted wisdom. “What did you learn from Steve?” Mossberg asked. After first averring that “we could be here all night, probably all week and maybe a month,” Cook offered this: “I learned that focus is key, not just in running a company but in your personal life. You can only do so many things great, and you should cast aside everything else.”
Drucker made the same point frequently. “Concentration,” he wrote “is the key to economic results.”
Indeed, not even Apple, the most valuable company in the world, can do everything. “No institution, least of all a large one, is capable of doing many things, let alone of doing many things well,” Drucker asserted in Toward the Next Economics. “Institutions must concentrate and set priorities.”
This seems obvious enough in theory. But it isn’t so easy to do in practice. “No other principle of effectiveness is violated as constantly today as the basic principle of concentration,” Drucker observed.
The reason businesses have such trouble concentrating on only a handful opportunities is that it means not concentrating on lots of other opportunities. “No matter how simple and how well ordered a business, there’s always a great deal more to be done than there are resources available to do it,” Drucker wrote. “The opportunities are always more plentiful than the means to realize them. There have to be priority decisions or nothing will get done.”
How do you and others in your organization resist the temptation to take on too many projects?