Most small business owners are constantly on the move – physically and mentally. We spend our days overseeing production, meeting with customers, and putting out fires. Meanwhile, our minds are working overtime coming up with ideas for new products, new processes, or new marketing campaigns.
Does that sound about right?
Now don’t get me wrong, it can be a good thing to be constantly innovating and working to improve. For many of you, it is that drive that opened the door for you to pursue your dream of owning a business in the first place.
But constant movement and innovation can have an unwanted result, both for your employees and for your customers: confusion.
Greg Mckeown, writing in the Harvard Business Review, shares an instructive story:
“A few weeks before Steve Jobs passed away, I was at Apple having lunch with a leader there. We revisited the well-known story of Jobs returning to an almost-bankrupt Apple. Jobs could have tried to maximize profits by squeezing every cent out of each of the existing product lines. But instead, he led the charge to remove scores of products. (At the time, Apple had a dozen versions of the Macintosh alone.) Jobs cut out profitable business lines at a time when the company appeared it could least afford to do so, culling the business down to four clear product lines. My lunch companion and I agreed that this atypical move was critical to the Cupertino company’s transformation into what is arguably the most valuable business in the world.”
Do you see the value to this approach? Jobs recognized the importance of clarity and focus – both internally, for employees, and externally. By dramatically reducing their product lines, Apple was able to focus their internal efforts on making each product as good as it could possibly be. Externally, customers were better able to understand the value of each product for their lives.
This doesn’t mean that you have to stop innovating and stop dreaming. It simply means that you need to discipline your thinking. Create a framework of your top products or services, and focus on improving them rather than on new ideas. Not only will this approach make it easier for your employees and your customers, but it will keep you from “spinning your wheels” in vain dreaming up projects that are unlikely to ever come to fruition.
Clarity of focus is a characteristic that world-class businesses share. Make it a part of your business culture!