When Nike named Mark Parker its CEO in 2006, one of the first things Parker did was call Apple CEO Steve Jobs for advice. At the time, Nike was trying to fit its digital strategy into its line of hundreds of thousands of products. 

Steve Jobs said one thing that stuck with Parker:

"Nike makes some of the best products in the world. Products that you lust after. But you also make a lot of crap. Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff."

"He was absolutely right," said Parker. "We had to edit."

Instead of going into another product line for technology, Nike stuck to what it did best while partnering with Apple. The result was Nike+, reportedly one of the most successful Nike campaigns ever.

Steve Jobs didn't just give his advice; he lived it. Jobs was fired from Apple but returned as the company was floundering in 1997. His first order of business? Cut.

By the end of that year, Jobs had killed almost 70 percent of Apple's products. A year later, the company had gone from losses of $1.04 billion to a $309 million profit.

Jobs saw Apple as distracted by opportunities. Opportunities seem innocent, but we often forget the commitments that come with them: energy, time, and money.

Why focusing on one thing is hard

I know I'm guilty of taking on too many things at once. Our culture teaches us to go after opportunities. Take that meeting. Go to that event, because you "never know." Our psychology pushes us too. The fear of missing out is powerful. We don't want someone else to grab our opportunities.

It seems counterintuitive that shutting down opportunities would be the best way to build something great, but turning them down in exchange for focus is exactly what's required. Especially today.

With the floodgates of the internet thrown open, we're drowning in options and information when all our brains want is something simple. So if you can tap into that simple message, you'll stand out.

Apple (under Jobs) spent its first three years selling only one product: the Apple 1. Only after nailing that first product did the company move on.

It's rare to build one thing well. But the world rewards rare. We seek the best solution. By focusing on less, you give yourself time to build a product that solves a problem in an incredible way. When your company's energy and resources are spread too thin, you can't solve problems at a high level. You don't have the attention, so you build something that's "good enough."

But there's too much competition to build anything that is only good enough.

At our company, Crew, we help companies find acclaimed designers and developers to work with. Early on, we thought about offering Crew to other types of professionals, such as writers. But we quickly realized the price that came along with adding that one word to our website: new marketing, a new sales approach, and new processes. On top of that, we'd make it less clear what we offer.

I'm still tempted by opportunities, but I've learned the importance of focusing on the right ones. One thing I've done to help with this is making a "no" list, where each day I write down every tempting opportunity we say no to. My no list for this quarter includes:

  • No new core product features
  • No new partnerships that require new product features
  • No new special projects
  • No events
  • No speaking engagements
  • No paid ads

Starting too many things at once won't help you get anything done faster. Instead, focus on doing one thing right first. Before you step on the gas, make people really want that one thing you offer. Only then consider your second act.