How the legendary founder employed minimalism to turn Apple around at its lowest point
Busy is the new cool, right?
Keep your phone on the table so that you can instantly check the super-important messages that come in every 7 minutes. Walk to work so fast you overtake peaceful joggers. Tell your mama you’ll definitely visit next week. Oh, and, God forbid you don’t have 18 certificates on your Linkedin page and five urgent projects to attend to.
We design our homes minimalistically, but we clutter our own lives — both personal and professional — into a FOMO-induced chaotic blend of “I don’t have time right now” and “I don’t know what I’m doing with my life.” It’s hard to take off with all that weight on your shoulders.
“As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.” — Henry David Thoreau
If interior design isn’t your thing, then perhaps a snippet of wisdom from Steve Jobs will help you reconnect with the long-lost essentials. Jobs came back to Apple during its darkest hour — and it was his minimalist approach that changed the course of the company completely.
Steve Jobs’s 30% Rule
In 1997, Apple was at its lowest point. After a brief success with early Macintosh models, the company started introducing product lines that went contrary to its core philosophy of simplicity. Sales were about to hit an all-time low since 1990.
The launch of Macintosh models Quadra, Centris, and Performa was considered “arguably one of the worst-managed campaigns in the industry.”
“For one, there were too many models, differentiated by very minor graduations in their tech specs. The excess of arbitrary model numbers confused many consumers and hurt Apple’s reputation for simplicity. […] Apple consistently underestimated demand for popular models and overestimated demand for others.” (source)
In their desperate search for an elegant, minimalistic operating system, Apple decided to buy NeXT and its rock-solid UNIX operating system. Along with the purchase came an unexpected gift: Apple’s very co-founder, Steve Jobs.
With little to lose, Apple’s board chose Jobs as an interim CEO (or iCEO, as he called it.) Jobs came in determined to put Apple back on the track of simplicity and minimalism.
“We examined the future product roadmap. Not the products we’re shipping today, the future product line. And what we found was that 30% of them were incredibly good, and about 70% of them were either ‘pretty good’ or things that we didn’t really need to be doing. Businesses we didn’t really need to be in.” (source)
Jobs was talking about things like Apple printers and Macintosh “clones” (a disastrous program that allowed 3rd party manufacturers to use MacOS on their computers.) You have to admit — these don’t really sound very Apple-esque.
The iMac, launched in 1998, was the product that got Apple out of the hole it dug itself into. Gone were the days of Apple’s over-stuffed product line. The iMac, marketed as an elegant plug-and-play solution for a first generation of Internet users, became the world’s best selling personal computer.
It was the iPod and the iPhone, however, that turned Apple into a behemoth it is today. The first 5-gigabyte iPod was a revolution in the MP3 era, storing “1,000 songs in your pocket.” And the iPhone, which makes up more than half of Apple’s sales, needs no introduction.
Could Jobs have predicted the success of these products? No, he couldn’t. But just by realigning Apple with the values that made it great before he left, Jobs was able to pull all of Apple’s talent into a coherent orchestra of engineers and designers who, in turn, made the iPod and iPhone possible.
Focus on the 30% of ‘incredibly good’ stuff in your life
Jobs’s minimalistic approach may seem like a macro-level corporate decision, but it really isn’t. His philosophy of essentialism is applicable in each and every one of our lives.
All of us have projects that take up a bulk of our time and give little in return. All of us have hobbies that take way too much of our lives. All of us have relationships in our lives that take more than they give.
These aren’t unique or rare problems. What sets people like Steve Jobs apart from the rest is the ability to eliminate the ‘pretty good’ and ‘not good enough’ from their lives, allowing for the ‘incredibly good’ things to reproduce.
A simple exercise may help you determine what those ‘incredibly good’ things are. Just ask yourself:
If you had to end 70% of your relationships, which would they be?
If you had to quit 70% of your projects, which ones would you choose?
If you had to cut your time off by 70%, what would you leave?
Just by honestly answering these questions you can identify more clearly which parts of your life deliver the most value.
Minimalism begins with elimination — once you get rid of the stuff that slows you down, you can start replacing it with stuff that helps you grow. The hard part is being able to let go of things that are ‘pretty good’ in your life — perhaps even things you’ve grown to love.