Win the Battle You Are In

In 1997, Michael Dell – founder of Dell Computer – was asked what he would do if he were the head of Apple.

“What would I do? I’d shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders.” [1]

Apple had seemingly lost all hope. Since kicking its founder, Steve Jobs, out of the company in 1985, it had been through a list of CEOs that just did not understand what made Apple special.

But in 1997, with Apple seriously considering selling off its assets, the board offered its original founder his rightful position as head of the company once again. However, even with Steve Jobs back at the controls, things did not look promising.

"Apple is like a ship with a hole in the bottom, leaking water and my job is to get the ship pointed in the right direction." [2]

So where did Jobs decide to point the sinking Apple ship? Not to the iPod, not to iTunes, not to the iPhone. He took Apple back to the original thing that they were great at so many years before – the Macintosh personal computer.

Anything that didn’t have to do with making the Mac the greatest personal computer on the marketplace would be cut, slashed, burned and eliminated in order to devote all of Apple’s resources to just winning the PC market.

Before envisioning any of the extraordinary and world changing products that Apple has created over the last 15 years, Apple had to first win the battle that they were already in.


When Steve Jobs left Apple in 1985, they had the exact opposite mentality – and that is what led them to the brink of destruction. Rather than focusing on doing one thing and doing it extremely well, they spread themselves too thin.

They started with computers for the average person. Then they decided to add some computers for business. Then they added premium priced “BMWs” of computers. Then they decided to get into the personal assistant market with their “Newton”. [3]

None of these were bad ideas, per-se, but by trying to do more and more things, they didn't do any of these new things well. Meanwhile they were slowly starting to get crushed in their "top" personal computer business!

When Steve Jobs took back over, however, they got back to basics. They slowly but surely began to dominate the personal computer world again.

Then when they won that battle, they explored the iPod. Which, in their mind, was merely “an important and natural extension of the Macintosh”. They believed the iPod would simply extend the value of the Mac by allowing users to take their Mac music with them.

Then, they started dominating the MP3 player market. Which helped them realize that they could move into actual sales of music online. With millions of customers already with iPods, they had leverage to dominate that market as well!

Product-by-product, market-by-market, Apple won battle after battle.

Then, a mere 13 years after Michael Dell said that they should shut the company down, Apple evolved into the most valuable company in the world. And they did it because they won every battle they were in before moving on to the next one.


Most of us go about our goals the same way that Apple did before the return of Steve Jobs. We want to start eating healthy, exercising regularly, improving our productivity and making more time for important things like family.

Then we try to move forward with all of these goals at once - leading us to be completely overwhelmed and overextended. Rather than doing any one of them well, we end up doing them all poorly – and stressing ourselves out in the process.

Your willpower is like a muscle. If you use it for one goal, you will tire it out for the next one. Which means that the more things you add to your list, the less effective you will be at any of them! 

I am no exception to this rule.

One of the worst habits I have is getting 500 words into an article, and then losing faith in it. I believe there is a “better” topic for me to write about! So I stop mid-article and begin my introduction for a different, more brilliant article.

That is, until I get 500 words into the new article and come up with an even better idea!

The result? I have dozens of half written articles. Most of them I have completely forgotten the point I was trying to make. Meanwhile, I have few actually edited and finished articles that are worthy of publishing. 

This adds unnecessary stress and headaches – always trying to think about the “next big article” rather than focusing on finishing the perfectly good articles that I have half-written.


To overcome this tendency, you and I need to take a lesson from Steve Jobs. We must be rigorous about finishing what we have started before we pick new battles to fight.

New battles may be sexy – they certainly seem to be compared to the discipline that it takes to win our current ones - but that is irrelevant.

Because those new and “sexy” battles will seem just as boring and uninteresting once our initial enthusiasm has worn off and the finish line still seems so far away. When we enter the middle of the journey, we will be just as unmotivated by the new project.

So we will end up with a pile of half-finished goals and few results to show for it.

The next time you become tempted by the lure of a new and exciting goal, pause. Think about your current goals and ambitions. Remember that what you’re working on right now once seemed just as exciting.

This self-awareness will help you realize what this newer and more exciting project really is - just a distraction. When your brain gets bored, it seeks new opportunities to distract and entertain it. This is why procrastination is so prevalent. 

Crossing the finish line of your current goal will always be more rewarding than making it half way to the finish of a new one. So recognize that another goal or project will just be a distraction, and summon the willpower to win the battle you are already in!


Apple's fall and rise is much more boring than it seemed from the outside. After Steve Jobs left Apple in 1985, the company started to fight new battles and overextend itself. But when he returned in 1997, he got the company back to basics - ensuring they would win the battle they were already in first. 

When we try to accomplish dreams, goals, or projects, we usually act like Apple without Jobs. We take on many different goals at once, get half way to completing them, then bounce to the next one once we get bored.

To achieve extraordinary success - like Apple did under Jobs - you must win the battles you are in now before moving on to the next ones. So summon the willpower to see your current goal through to the finish. A half-finished goal may as well have never been started at all.


  1. Singh, J. (2002). Dell: Apple should close shop - CNET.
  2. Jobs, S. (1997). Steve Jobs Funniest Joke. Even Bill Gates Laughs!
  3. Collins, J., & Hansen, M. (2011). Great by choice: Uncertainty, chaos, and luck : Why some thrive despite them all. New York, NY: HarperCollins.