Keep The Main Thing The Main Thing

Jun 14, 2023

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing — Stephen Covey

An important lesson I’ve learned over the years (and still refining). A few dimensions in my experience.

The first is prioritization — actually picking the main thing. It’s often hard at first; there are so many competing priorities. And usually, the initial answer is horizontal scaling rather than vertical scaling — i.e., hire more, allocate more resources, and try more things. But putting some work into prioritizing. Do one thing, and do it well. Ruthlessly cut everything else.

The second is focus — keeping the main thing the main thing. It’s easy to lose focus. Seemingly better alternatives arise (e.g., AI, crypto, data, etc.). A short-term go-to-market play spirals into a bifurcated strategy.

The third is defining the main thing. The main thing isn’t always a product. Intel was initially founded as a company that produced memory for mainframes. HP’s first product was an audio oscillator. It doesn’t always have to be extremely narrow — but a good guide might answer the question: what are you uniquely qualified to do that no one else can do?

It’s not easy to keep the main thing the main thing — and probably more challenging amid success. Mark Zuckerberg worked on a peer-to-peer file transfer system called Wirehog while working on Facebook. Luckily, he forgot about it and kept the main thing the main thing.