Do One Thing Well... by Dave Nelsen

… Not two things poorly. We’ve all heard the saying but as with many things, it’s easier to say than to do.

Deviating from my usual script, I’m not going to share an app or a social media tool this time, but instead tell a story about Apple.

I’m thinking about this because I’ve been buying virtually every product Apple has put out for more than a decade. However, I bought an Apple Watch the day it launched and I no longer wear it. The FitBit Charge HR is far better for tracking sleep and exercise (the key functions of a wrist-based wearable), it’s more comfortable, and the battery last for days. I bought an iPad Pro (plus Keyboard plus Pencil) the day it launched but two months later I sold it to a friend. It’s big and heavy but can’t replace my MacBook Pro. I bought an iPad Air 2 instead (Steve Jobs had the size right originally).

In 1995, in an interview with a BBC reporter, Steve Jobs observed that in 10 years (from 1985 to 1995), Microsoft Windows had more or less caught up with the Mac operating system. Apple had spent billions of dollars on R&D and what did they get for it? A product that was perhaps 25% better than the Mac shipping when Steve was booted out of the company 10 years earlier.

When Steve Jobs said that, he also said that he thought Apple couldn’t be saved. Yet two years later, that was exactly his job. I recently discovered a video ( from an internal company meeting on September 23, 1997, just weeks after Steve once again took the reins,  that reveals exactly how he did it.

Before I reveal the answer, here’s one more thing Steve said to the BBC reporter in 1995: “People make the mistake of thinking that a really great idea is 90% percent of the work. There’s just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a great product.”

I’m struck by the use of the word “craftsmanship”. But ask yourself, do you make the mistake of thinking that the idea is 90% percent of the work?

In 1997, Steve saved Apple by killing fully 70% of the projects on the Apple product roadmap! That was the key. It gave Apple engineers the ability to focus on doing a few things really well. And we all know the rest of the story.

If Steve were around today, I think he would observe that in the 5 years since he’s been gone, Apple has spent billions of dollars on R&D and wonder what did they get for it?

I don’t have the answer for Apple but I ask you to think about your business and how much the world is changing around you. Are you doing the same things today as yesterday? What could you stop doing so that your team has more time to focus on the most important things?

Do one thing well, not two things poorly.




By Dave Nelsen

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