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Focus to Win

Blog: FS - Smart decisions

Anyone can say no to bad ideas, but only a focused person can say no to good ideas.

When talking about one of the biggest lessons he learned from Steve Jobs, Jonny Ive said:

This sounds really simplistic, but it still shocks me how few people actually practice this, and it’s a struggle to practice, but is this issue of focus.

Jobs was the most focused person in the world. Focus isn’t a light switch you can turn on and off.

Focus is not the sort of thing you aspire to … or you decide on Monday. It’s something you do every minute.

Jobs would often test people, asking them, “how many things have you said no to?” Ive was up to the task of answering, only he didn’t mean it, and Jobs read right through him.

I would have these sacrificial things, because I wanted to be very honest about it. And so I’d say, “Well, I said no to this and no to that.” But he knew that I wasn’t vaguely interested in doing those things anyway, so there was no real sacrifice.

What focus means is saying no to something that you, with every bone in your body, you think is a phenomenal idea and you wake up thinking about it, but you say no to it because you’re focusing on something else.

A world of abundance creates a poverty of focus.

Focus as a Filter

The only people you should hire are focused ones. The only competitors you should worry about are the focused ones.

Organizations lose focus in many ways, but the one that causes the most damage is bureaucracy. An organization where committees make decisions will always end up losing focus and creating space for a competitor.

People naturally lose focus when they forget that focus means saying no to good opportunities and good people so you have space and time to execute on what matters.

Focus is hard, and because it’s hard, it also creates a hidden place to find opportunities.

Finding Ideas

Focus naturally creates a hidden place to find ideas to focus on.

Since focus requires saying no, it also means really smart people and good competitors are saying no to really good ideas.

If you’re a person trying to find your way in an organization, it’s worth thinking about the most focused people around you and the best idea they’re not working on. If you’re a company, it’s worth thinking about what your best competition is not doing. You can often figure this out by interviewing smart focused people from another company.

Energy into Results

If you look around, you’ll notice the people and organizations moving the fastest are the focused ones. Not only do they focus on singular ideas, but within the territory of those ideas, they are able to focus on the key variables.

Focus turns energy into results.

We all have the same number of hours in a week. What separates people is how they focus them.

Narrow the focus. Raise the standard. And set yourself apart.


  • Jonny Ive interview (
  • Interview with Michael Lombardi – on how the New England Patriots only focused on 8 teams because the culture and focus on the other teams just wasn’t there.
  • Then when searching for more on this I found some of Paul Graham’s thoughts, specifically this one ( Naval also said something similar (

The post Focus to Win appeared first on Farnam Street.

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