It was 1997, and Apple was up against the ropes. When company leadership made the decision to acquire NeXT and bring Steve Jobs back after ousting him from Apple 12 years prior, they were throwing a hail mary.

At the time, Apple was as little as a few weeks from bankruptcy, but Steve Jobs immediately got to work with sweeping changes and historic innovation.

In an interview with CNBC that took place the same year as his return, Jobs talks about how he went about the rehabilitation that ultimately produced the company we know today.

Greatness Lies in the 30%

Jobs said that if you want to persevere, you need to pursue only the opportunities that move you the most and say no to the rest. It's difficult, but the results are worth it. When Jobs was brought back to Apple in 1997, the company was struggling. It only turned a corner when he axed 70 percent of the "pretty good" projects to focus on the 30 percent that were incredible.​ 

Of the many important business lessons Jobs shared over the course of his life, his ability to let go of certain projects and focus was likely what allowed him to achieve his goals and change the world. If you want to find success in your own endeavors, you should follow this model and learn how to say no. You may be surprised what you can accomplish when you do. 

Regarding the "pretty good" 70 percent, Jobs continued to say in the interview that "we've pared a lot of that back, so we could focus the same amount of original resource even more on what was remaining -- and add a few new things in."

In case you're confused, he axed 70 percent of Apple's projects because he knew that "pretty good" is the enemy of great. With 100 percent of the former budget for innovation going toward the 30% of "incredibly good" projects, those initiatives could reach their full potential instead of being dragged down by the weight of the "pretty good" ones.

Figuring Out Focus

It doesn't take much more than a cursory examination to reveal that Jobs was a fan of focus -- of shutting out the noise and devoting time and energy to the endeavors that mattered the most. In fact, it was the blueprint for his entire approach to innovation.

In his own words, he points out that "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 the things we haven't done as the things I have done."

And he should be proud. Those things he decided not to do didn't just save Apple from bankruptcy -- they turned it into the biggest and most valuable public company in the world.

Published on: Jan 22, 2020
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