Recently, Apple’s head of design Jony Ive shared some rare insight into the mind of the enigmatic genius behind Apple’s success: Steve Jobs. At an interview during Vanity Fair’s New Establishment conference, Ive spoke about the three biggest lessons Jobs taught him during their time at Apple together.

Unsurprisingly, they can all be connected back to Jobs’ impressive ability to focus. And I mean really focus.


1. Know What You’re Focusing on All the Time

“Focus” is actually an interesting word to describe Jobs’ drive. The way I use it (and the way you probably use it) refers to what I’d like to accomplish right now or within a set time frame, but for Jobs, “focus” was a singular, long-term, and constant obsession. According to Ive, Jobs knew what he was focused on, and that’s all that mattered all the time.

Steve was the most remarkably focused person I’ve ever met in my life. And the thing with focus is, it’s not this thing you aspire to, or you decide on Monday, ‘You know, I’m going to be focused.’ It is an every minute, ‘Why are we talking about this? This is what we’re working on.’ You can achieve so much when you truly focus.


2. Make Sacrifices That Matter

It’s easy to say no to bad ideas. It’s not so easy to say no to good ideas that just don’t yet align with your target. But, in order to stay focused, that is exactly what needs to happen. In fact, this was precisely the metric Jobs used to gauge whether Ive was truly focusing: whether or not he was sacrificing good ideas.

One of the things Steve would say—because I think he was concerned that I wasn’t—he would say, ‘How many things have you said no to?’ And I would have these sacrificial things, because I wanted to be very honest about it, so 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 with every bone in your body think is a phenomenal idea, and you wake up thinking about it, but you end up saying no to it because you’re focusing on something else.


3. Don’t Let Vanity Get in the Way

Being focused on achieving a particular goal is especially hard when you’re working on a team. It’s not just maintaining your own self-discipline; it’s also about getting your team on board with the same philosophy. How do you keep the work at a level that is acceptable to you while still preserving team morale?

Well, according to Jobs, it’s not by sugar coating things. Famous for his perfectionism in achieving his vision for a product, his interpretation of using niceties to encourage a team boiled down to the leader adding little and simply wanting to be well liked. To Jobs, the way others perceived him—as with everything else—mattered less than achieving his objectives.

I was having a conversation with him and I remember asking him why it could have been perceived in his critique of a piece of work he was a little bit too harsh. We’d been putting our heart and soul into this. I said, couldn’t we be a bit more, couldn’t we moderate the things we said?

And he said, ‘Well, why?’

And I said, ‘Because I care about the team.’

And he said this brutally brilliantly insightful thing, what he said was, ‘No Jony, you’re just really vain.’

‘Oh.’

‘No, you just want people to like you. And I’m surprised at you because I thought you really held the work up as the most important, not how you believed you were perceived by other people.’

And I was terribly cross because I knew he was right.

It’s fascinating to see how Jobs’ approach to focus has impacted Apple’s reputation and products. And if the company’s current success is any indication, his methods are certainly at least worth understanding, if not implementing.

At the very least, the next time you’re faced with a colossal undertaking, consider what you mean when you say you’re “focusing” and whether you’re ready to make some real sacrifices. You might be surprised at the end result.


Photo of tablet courtesy of Shutterstock.