Tim Cook loves saying ‘no’ to ideas, just like Steve Jobs did


Tim Cook
Like Jobs, Tim Cook is as proud of the ideas he says no to.
Photo: Apple

In a new interview, Tim Cook says that one of the priorities of his job is learning to say “no to a bunch of great ideas” in order to keep Apple focused.

“There is more noise in the world than change,” he said. “One of my roles is to try to block the noise from the people who are really doing the work. That’s tougher and tougher in this environment … We can do more things than we used to do because we’re a bit bigger. But in the scheme of things versus our revenue, we’re doing very few things. I mean, you could put every product we’re making on [a] table, to put it in perspective. I doubt anybody that is anywhere near our revenue could say that.”

If the importance of saying “no” sounds familiar, it’s because it’s a lesson straight out of the Steve Jobs playbook.

A lesson from Steve Jobs

In a conversation with Nike CEO Mark Parker, Jobs said that, “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things.”

The same lesson about saying “no” was recounted by Jony Ive after Jobs’ death when speaking at the Vanity Fair New Establishment summit. Ive described Jobs as the most focused person he had ever met and said that, “What focus means is saying no to something that with every bone in body you think is a phenomenal idea, and you wake up thinking about it, but you say no to it because you’re focusing on something else.”

It might sound a simple message, but it’s clearly one that a lot of companies fail to heed based on the number of products they put out.

Other highlights from Tim Cook’s interview

Tim Cook’s interview with Fast Company comes one day after the publication picked Apple’s as its most innovative company of the year. The entire interview is worth reading, although it’s not especially revealing.

Other tidbits include Cook saying that Wall Street and investment markets have, “little to no effect on us”; saying that Apple is working on some products set to come out in the 2020s; denying that Apple follows companies into certain markets such as smart speakers; and more.

Here’s what Cook says about common misconceptions about Apple:

“For a casual observer who hasn’t been a user of our products, the thing that they might miss is how different Apple is versus other technology companies. A financial person just looking at revenues and profits may think, They’re good [at making money]. But that’s not who we are. We’re a group of people who are trying to change the world for the better, that’s who we are. For us, technology is a background thing. We don’t want people to have to focus on bits and bytes and feeds and speeds. We don’t want people to have to go to multiple [systems] or live with a device that’s not integrated. We do the hardware and the software, and some of the key services as well, to provide a whole system.

We do that in such a way that we infuse humanity into it. We take our values very seriously, and we want to make sure all of our products reflect those values. There are things like making sure that we’re running our [U.S.] operations on 100% renewable energy, because we don’t want to leave the earth worse than we found it. We make sure that we treat well all the people who are in our supply chain. We have incredible diversity, not as good as we want, but great diversity, and it’s that diversity that yields products like this.

We’re all very different. You could walk down this aisle and talk to 10 people, and they’d be totally different, but we all have the same common purpose. That’s the thing that joins us all together. And it’s that goal that drives everybody to keep working ungodly hours and trying to do the best work of our lives.”