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Apple’s Courage to Say No

by Keefe Tang

Jonathan Ive spoke recently at a British Business Embassy event.

We have been, on a number of occasions, preparing for mass production and in a room and realised we are talking a little too loud about the virtues of something. That to me is always the danger, if I’m trying to talk a little too loud about something and realising I’m trying to convince myself that something’s good.

Jonathan Ive went on to say he believes that Apple does not get credit for this willingness to reject ideas. Indeed most leaders will tell you that once a project have spent lots of money and time only to develop something mediocre, it is very hard to admit it was a mistake and shelve the product.

The story of Steve Jobs’ return to an almost-bankrupt Apple is well known, Steve Jobs could have tried to maximize Apple’s profit by squeezing every last cent out of each product Apple was offering but instead he removed a number of products to focus on four clear product lines. At a time where the company could least afford to do so, that move turned out to be critical to Apple that lead it to become the most valuable company in the world.

When leading a team it is not difficult to see what the team needs to do to succeed. The difficulties about being a leader is the decision a leader faces on a day-to-day basis to lead his or her team to where it needs to be. And deciding to cut is difficult, even when it is the essence of decision making1.

I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things we have done. Innovation is saying ‘no’ to a 1,000 things.

Steve Jobs

Many leaders have spoken about their strategy for their company and they all revolve around identifying what they needs to do and how to do it. I have not heard anyone else define their strategy by identifying what they must not do.

Of all the things to copy from Apple, learning the courage to say no is perhaps the most important of all.


  1. The Latin root of “decision”—cis—means to cut.