By Mike Wright

Are you working hard on the wrong things?

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Uncategorized | July 27, 2015

Consider this...

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 there were a lot of things broken. In fact, I remember reading an article that year that listed 10 tech companies who were predicted to go out of business by the year's end – and Apple was at the top of the list.

Serving first as an advisor, Jobs described a company where engineers worked on "arguably interesting things" but then famously shared, "Focusing is about saying no."  A few months later, as the interim CEO, Jobs made the case that Apple didn't have an execution problem, "Apple is executing wonderfully on many of the wrong things." The real problem according to Jobs was the strategy, a company headed in many different directions from printers to handhelds… to a gaming console. Hold up! In 1997 Apple had a gaming console. Who knew?

Less than a year later Jobs cleaned house, doing away with what he called "a zillion and one products" in favor of just four, "If we can make literally four great product platforms we'd be doing fantastic."

Do you ever feel like you have a zillion and one things to do? Are you doing a lot of things mediocrely or are you able to focus on doing a few important things extraordinarily well?

In short, you are less likely to get really important work done when you're trying to do too much. Like Apple, you may be better off sticking to 3 or 4 strategically important initiatives at a time.

Download and print out this activity for each of your team members, and follow the instructions below.

Acumen in Action™

In your next team meeting pass out the first page of the activity and give each team member a minute to write down the year that Apple discontinued the listed products. Let them know that it's ok to guess.

Reveal that all of these products were discontinued by Steve Jobs in 1998, and pass out the second page of the activity. Explain that Jobs discontinued 15 different computer platforms along with a myriad of displays, printers, and peripherals, and replaced it all with 4 product platforms.

Now use your business acumen to explore the following:

  • Steve Jobs famously shared, "Focusing is about saying no." What do you think he meant by that?
  • What was the short-term result of Steve Jobs discontinuing the majority of Apple's products? Point out that people lost their jobs and many senior leaders resigned.
  • What was the long-term result? Apple went on to become one of the most admired and profitable companies in the world.
  • Discuss the following idea – Business acumen is about focusing on the right things and execution is about getting the right things done.
  • Are we focused on the right things?
  • What are the 3 to 4 business priorities that are most important to our team?
  • Are we aligned? Meaning, are our in individual initiatives aligned with our team's business priorities, and are our priorities aligned with the company's strategy?
  • Are we trying to do to much? Is there anything we need to say no to?
  • Explore ways the team can get better at execution.

Seeing the Big Picture®

If you and your team have the book Seeing the Big Picture(Greenleaf, 2012) turn to page 10 and read the section, "Influencing the Whole"

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