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Jobs on the importance of saying "no" (forbes.com)
148 points by brennannovak on May 21, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 27 comments

Seems it's a career-long motto of his. Here's my little story from when he told that to a room of record labels in 2003: http://www.oreillynet.com/onlamp/blog/2004/08/say_no_by_defa...


In June of 2003, Steve Jobs gave a small private presentation about the iTunes Music Store to some independent record label people.

My favorite line of the day was when people kept raising their hand saying, "Does it do ___(x)___?", "Do you plan to add ___(y)___?".

Finally Jobs said, "Wait wait - put your hands down. Listen: I know you have a thousand ideas for all the cool features iTunes could have. So do we. But we don’t want a thousand features. That would be ugly.

Innovation is not about saying yes to everything. It’s about saying NO to all but the most crucial features."

Funny that you mention iTunes, it's presumably completely off Steve's radar now. Just try right clicking on a song, see how clunky it is.

I guess you could say making iTunes less clunky was presumably one of the 1000 ideas he said no to so he could focus on the iPhone/iPad.

Indeed. I hate iTunes with a passion. It's maybe the worst product Apple has out. Usually they're at least great with interface design but somehow iTunes manages to make everything feel 3 times clunkier than it has to.

I would say that the true, Jobsian iTunes can now be experienced on an iPad or iPhone, not on Mac or Windows.

Almost all company leaders are aware of the importance of design, simplicity, and usability. The problem isn't lack of information. They know about Apple products. They want to be Apple. But most of them never end up with a product or service that is like what they say.

I really do think good product design is all about the courage to follow through on obvious good ideas (like the article said). It's the thing business execs need to get through their skulls. The hard part isn't thinking of good ideas or innovating, it's discipline and courage. They all say they want simplicity and good design, but inevitably cave to deadlines, politics, and short-term financial decisions.

It's unbearably frustrating to watch in my company.

They all say they want simplicity and good design, but inevitably cave to deadlines, politics, and short-term financial decisions.

This means their incentives aren't aligned with what's best for the business.

Reminds me of this quote by the sculptor Rodin: "I choose a block of marble and chop off whatever I don't need."

"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.

I remember reading a similar article about Linus Torvalds (saying no to the inclusion of much code in the Linux kernel codebase). The gist of the article was that he spends much more time rejecting new code than he spends actually coding. I can't seem to find the article now though...

Me on the importance of not guiding your business thinking with buzz phrases. Apple's business is much more complicated than this saying 'no' bit (they and Dell built incredible supply chains).

As a counterpoint, there are tons of businesses who've said "yes" lots and have had great success: SalesForce, Oracle, IBM, GE, Microsoft, Google, Nike (yes, even if they though what Jobs said was smart).

I appreciate the article's highlighting of a particular management orientation, but this particular orientation is far from unique or broadly suitable. Know your product, know your market, know your team, know your capabilities and think deeply about how to compose all of those things into an ongoing, growing business concern. Then in 20 years, you'll be giving an interview about how you did it by focusing on the important of telling jokes or something.

That's just one business model. Crap sells as well, with a lower margin but a higher volume.

We know it most commonly as the music business.

The title should read "Jobs on the importance of saying 'no'" - the apostrophe is incorrect.

Reading this reminded me of some words from Henry David Thoreau:

"A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to leave alone."

People seem to think St. Steve never makes mistakes... see Rockr phone, and Ping. Why didn't he say no? Or wait, it sucks.

Or the 'no radio' thing in ipods. One of my colleagues is convinced that a radio got into an ipod only because Jobs got really sick at the time and some sane, brave engineer just slipped it in while no-one was looking...

Actually, come to think of it, there's a distinct irony in Apple products. They hate cables, so everything is as wireless as possible... yet they don't do wireless things very well. They selected a bad telecom to launch their phone; by the time they were able to get a good vendor, they screwed the antenna; the ipods never had radio - the one 'wireless' that's been around for a century; the Airports really suck as access points... :)

the rf stuff is pretty complex from what I understand. I think the iphone has around 7 antennas in it (wifi, edge, 3g, gsm, etc). I somehow doubt 'just adding' another antenna is a trivial matter, an expert would probably be able to tell you better what it takes to balance quality/interference with so many radios in close proximity. From what I know about how they work, I'm guessing they've tried out all kinds of stuff including putting in a radio, and probably decided to cut it.

This is the $n-th iteration of that same article I've read.

Jobs is right.

Lately too much relatively "crappy stuff" has been coming out of Google, and it's part of the reason Apple's brand just surpassed Google's, where it had been number one for the last 4 years.

Seth Godin warned Google about this 5 years ago, right when its brand was reaching the number one spot.

He said, "If you blow it too many times in a row, they won't care about Google anymore, and you'll be back to that slot" http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6909078385965257294...).

Hopefully Page will reinvigorate things now that he's back at the helm.

Jobs only puts one slide of words on the screen, and we always know what it is, "One more thing".

Except to record companies.

If this "essentialism" were to be consistent, I would assume there would be only one iPhone rather than what, five?

It's a model with merit, but it's not a holy thing that it sometimes is made out to be. It's still, rather obvious perhaps, subordinate to making profits.

Apple currently markets iPhone 4 and iPhone 3G. Compared to their competitors, some which have hundreds of available cell phone models, Apple's product lineup is extremely lean.

It's a way of doing business that's proven to be exceptionally successful. Not only in terms of profit but also creating products that ignite passion in consumers.

Another key aspect is that even major software updates tend to work reasonably well on previous generations of their devices. For instance, an iPhone 3GS can run the latest version of iOS, and Apple's one-year OS development cycle isn't obstructed by a carrier's two-year contract cycle.

I agree with everything you said, but I don't think it contradicts what I was saying.

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