Doing Less With Less

By 1997, Apple was making 350 different products…and losing money. In fact, the company had posted 11 years of financial losses leading up to 1997, and by the time Steve Jobs returned to Apple, the company was 90 days away from bankruptcy.

At the 1997 Macworld Expo, Jobs explained to the audience: “If we want to move forward and see Apple healthy and prospering again, we have to let go of a few things here.” By the end of 1997, Apple slashed the number of products it produced to just 10.

Confronted with less (impending bankruptcy), Jobs forced Apple to do less. In the process, Jobs staved off bankruptcy and transformed the company — and the industry, beginning with the introduction of the candy colored iMacs in 1998.

In his book Good to Great, author Jim Collins advocates the idea of doing less — and not only for organizations in financial trouble. According to Collins, the secret of moving from good to great — the secret to productivity, if you will — is doing just one thing and doing it really well.

To illustrate his point, Collins explains that the hedgehog does just one thing — but it does it really well. To protect itself, the hedgehog rolls into a thorny ball.

Execution is critical. But when you focus on just one thing, execution is easier.

What is your one thing?

The answer may be found in Collins’ hedgehog analysis. Deceptively simple, these three questions trip up many good organizations.

To illustrate how difficult this analysis can be, think back to Apple. If you think of Apple as the company that makes innovative computers, tablets and smart phones, you have already erred. Apple doesn’t actually make anything. It outsources one of its most important processes: manufacturing. In this way, Apple is able to focus on its core mission: innovation.