Yesterday as I was working out on the elliptical machine, I was watching the Food Network. One of the programs talked about a couple that was beginning a new restaurant with over 300 items on their menu. Yes, you read that correctly, over 300. My first thought was, "They’re crazy!" No one, especially no one who is starting out, can do 300 things remarkably well. In fact, how many companies can you think of (that have been around a long time and have lots of employees) that do 300 things remarkably well. You can’t. Why? Because no one does 300 things remarkably well.
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in the late 90’s, one of the first things he did was to cut their product line to four products. In a famous confrontation with the Apple board when he first arrived (which Business Week recently recounted), Jobs asked the leaders of his beleaguered company, which he had just taken over again, "Tell me what’s wrong with this company?" After a few mumbled relies Jobs said, "It’s the products! So what’s wrong with the products?" Again, some muffled replies Jobs responded, "The products suck. There’s no sex in them anymore!" Apple was dying until Steve cut the product line down and began obsessing again over creating truly remarkable products. The result. Last year Apple had a profit increase of 384% over the previous year. Sometimes the way to grow is to reduce what you’re doing so that the only things you’re doing are remarkable.
Back to the restaurant example. Rarely do you ever go to a great restaurant with a long menu. In fact, if you go to some truly fine restaurants, the chef doesn’t even know what will be on the menu until he/she sees what’s fresh that day at the market. For example, Charlie Trotter changes his menu daily. Yet, mediocre restaurants often have large menus. Now, just because a menu is small doesn’t mean the product is great. The chef still has to create a remarkable meal regardless of the number of items. But, the probability increases that he/she will be able to create a more remarkable menu if the only items offered are ones that the chef knows are knock out recipes.
In old Jack Welch GE language "Be either number one or two, or get out of it." Expanding product lines and merging companies rarely produce greatness (usually just divestiture several years later). Offering too many products or services which are just mediocre is not a strategy for greatness. And this is just as true of a Fortune 500 company as a local church, a mid-sized national tech company as a local eatery. Sometimes the path toward growth is the path toward reducing your product lines or services. Less is often more.
Remember, no one can do 300 things remarkably well. So, check with yourself. Are trying to do too many things in your company? What are you best at? What aren’t you? Focus on the first, cut out the second. You just might be surprised at how much faster you’ll grow by reducing what you’re doing. Even GM is finally recognizing this. Note: Do not be underwhelmed by this principle. It just might turn around your company or organization!