The Most Important Lesson Tim Cook Learned From Steve Jobs: “Focus Is Key”

In his first major public interview since replacing Steve Jobs as CEO, Tim Cook took the stage with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher at the tenth annual All Things D conference to talk about the state of a post-Jobs Apple. “Apple has gone through a tremendous change,” Walt Mossberg segued into perhaps the most important question of the interview, “How is Apple different with you as the CEO?”

“I learned a lot from Steve,” Cook responded. “It was the saddest day of my life when he passed away. As much as you should see or predict that I really didn’t. It’s time to get on.”

Cook said that he most admired Jobs’ “intense determination” and described him as “laser-focused.” Cook also explained that the most important leadership lesson he learned from Jobs is that  “‘Focus is key’ .. Not just in running your company but in your personal life. You can only do certain things well.”

“Steve was good at not accepting things ‘good’ or ‘very good’ but only ‘the very best’,” Cook went on, describing Apple’s competitive advantage in cultivating culture of excellence . “It’s so unique that I’m not going to witness or permit the change of it,” Cook said.

When Mossberg pressed him on this point, implying that it belied an unwillingness to change, Cook said no, “I love museums but I’m not going to live in one,” saying that another thing he learned from Jobs (who spoke two years ago on the very same stage) was to not focus on the past.

Referring to how Disney executives would always ask “What would Walt do?” when making decisions, Jobs told Cook to never ask “What would Steve Jobs do?” “Just do what you like,” Jobs apparently advised, surprisingly enough.

Moving on to (even softer) matters, Cook also brought up another philosophical Jobs maxim, “The joy is in the journey.” “Life is fragile,” Cook said, “We’re not guaranteed a tomorrow so give it everything you’ve got.”