There's Sound Thinking and Then There's Thinking That Sounds Good!

Editor's Note: My grandfather was an old Swamp Yankee, and he had some great common sense sayings. The title is just one of them. Enjoy. As always, you can find all my blog posts from 2013 to the present on my website at http://stevemarshallassociates.com/steves-blog/

Swamp Yankee
This is a colloquial pejorative for rural Yankees or WASPs (northeasterners with English colonial ancestry). Whereas the term "Yankee" connotes urbane industriousness, the term "Swamp Yankee" signifies a more countrified, stubborn, independent, and less refined subtype. It is an old-fashioned term from the 1930s through the early 1960s and often has little meaning today.

He had another great retort for people trying to make polite conversation when they first met him. He was quite elderly when I knew him, and people often seek words of wisdom from their elders. He also had been solidly planted in NH most of his 83 years, so people would often ask him, "Have you lived here your whole life?" Always succinct and stoic, his reply was invariably, "Not yet." If you read last week's offering, you'll remember I quoted Voltaire when he stated, "Common sense is not so common." I think my grandfather, Joe,  was one of the few people that I have ever known that had real common sense.

Less is More
If Grandpa Joe were alive today, he would be astounded by how complicated that people make their lives, and just the mere accumulation of material things would have appalled him. He would have been labeled a"minimalist" today but for him, he was a believer in the "KISS" principle; "Keep It Simple Stupid."

The acronym was reportedly coined in 1960 by Kelly Johnson, lead engineer at the Lockheed Skunk Works (creators of the Lockheed U-2 and SR-71 Blackbird spy planes, among many others).

While popular usage has transcribed it for decades as "Keep it simple, stupid", Johnson transcribed it as "Keep it simple stupid" (no comma), and this reading is still used by many authors. There was no implicit meaning that an engineer was stupid; just the opposite.

The principle is best exemplified by the story of Johnson handing a team of design engineers a handful of tools, with the challenge that the jet aircraft they were designing must be repairable by an average mechanic in the field under combat conditions with only these tools. Hence, the "stupid" refers to the relationship between the way things break and the sophistication available to repair them.

Steve Jobs Saved Nike?
When Nike named Mark Parker their CEO in 2006, one of the first things Parker did was call Apple CEO Steve Jobs for advice. At the time, Nike was trying to fit their digital strategy into their line of hundreds of thousands of products. 

Steve Jobs said one thing that stuck with Muller: "Nike makes some of the best products in the world. Products that you lust after. But you also make a lot of crap. Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff." "He was absolutely right," said Parker. "We had to edit." Instead of going into another product line for technology, Nike stuck to what they did best while partnering with Apple. The result was Nike+, reportedly one of the most successful Nike campaigns ever.

Steve Jobs didn't just give his advice; he lived it. Jobs was fired from Apple but returned as the company was floundering in 1997. His first order of business? Cut. By the end of that year, Jobs killed almost 70 percent of Apple's products. A year later, the company had gone from losses of $1.04 billion to a $309 million profit. Jobs saw Apple as distracted by opportunities. Opportunities seem innocent, but we often forget the commitments that come with them: energy, time, and money.

Focusing on One Thing is Really Hard!
Our culture teaches us to go after opportunities. How about that meeting? You feel as if you have to go because you never know what you might miss. Our human engineering pushes us, too; the fear of missing out is powerful, and we do not want someone else to grab our opportunities.

It seems counterintuitive that shutting down opportunities would be the best way to build something great, but turning them down in exchange for focus is exactly what's required. Especially in today's business environment with the floodgates of the internet thrown open, we are drowning in options and information, when all our brains want is something simple. For example, Apple, under Jobs' leadership, spent its first three years selling only one product; the Apple 1. Only after nailing that first product did they move on.

It's rare to build one thing well. But the world rewards "extraordinary." We seek the best solution. By focusing on less, you give yourself the time to build a product that solves a problem in an incredible way. When your company's energy and resources are spread too thin, you can't help but solve problems at a high level. You don't have the attention, so you build something that's 'good enough.' But there's too much competition to build anything that is only 'good enough.'

Crew
A Montreal-based company, Crew, helps businesses find acclaimed designers and developers to work with. Their market niche is as the world’s most talented mobile and web creators to help companies build their dream mobile app, website, or brand. Early on they thought about offering Crew to other types of professionals, like writers, But they quickly realized the price that came along with adding that one word to their website: new marketing, a new sales approach, and new processes. On top of that, it would make it less clear what they offer.

They have been tempted by many opportunities since their founding in 2012, but they have learned the importance of focusing on the right ones. One thing they've done to help with this is make a "no" list where they list every tempting "opportunity" they say "no" to today. Their current "no" list for this quarter includes:

  • No new core product features
  • No new partnerships that require new product features
  • No new special projects
  • No events
  • No speaking engagements
  • No paid ads

What's the Point?
Starting too many things at once won't help you get anything done faster. Instead, focus on doing one thing right first. Before you step on the gas, make people really want that one thing you offer and only then consider taking on more things you offer. I think Grandpa Joe would have applauded companies like Crew and Apple that understand the difference between 'sound thinking and thinking that sounds good.'

Next Week: More Common Sense