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Steve Jobs emphasized the significance of deciding what not to pursue, stating, "Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do."

In 1997, when Steve Jobs returned to Apple, the company he had co-founded over two decades earlier was teetering on the edge of collapse. Apple's sales had plummeted by 30 percent during the final quarter of 1996, and the tech giant faced fierce competition from Microsoft. In this article, we explore how Jobs orchestrated a remarkable turnaround by overhauling Apple's product lineup, streamlining operations, and igniting a new era of innovation.

The Precarious State of Apple

As Steve Jobs assumed the role of CEO once more, Apple's future looked bleak. A Fortune magazine article from that era painted a grim picture of the company: "Apple Computer, Silicon Valley's paragon of dysfunctional management and fumbled techno-dreams, is back in crisis mode." The company was grappling with plunging sales, an unclear technology strategy, and a tarnished brand image. Microsoft's dominance in the computer market added to Apple's woes.

The Microsoft Partnership

Fresh from a strategic partnership with Microsoft that injected $150 million into Apple, one of Jobs' initial objectives was to assess the company's unwieldy product portfolio. What he discovered was a multitude of product variations created to cater to retailers' requests. Apple was selling an array of Macintosh computer models, leaving consumers bewildered.

Jobs posed a straightforward question to his top managers, "Which ones do I tell my friends to buy?" The absence of a clear response prompted Jobs to take decisive action: reducing Apple's product offerings by a staggering 70 percent. This overhaul resulted in the discontinuation of products like the Newton digital personal assistant and a workforce reduction of approximately 3,000 employees.

The Art of Choosing What Not to Do

Steve Jobs emphasized the significance of deciding what not to pursue, stating, "Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do." This principle held true not only for products but also for the company itself. Apple's strategy under Jobs became centered on producing just four distinct products: a desktop and portable device aimed at both consumers and professionals.

For professionals, Apple introduced the Power Macintosh G3 desktop and the PowerBook G3 portable computer. On the consumer front, there were the iMac desktop and iBook portable computer. The prefix "i" emphasized the integration of these devices with the internet.

A Turnaround in Fortunes

Steve Jobs' strategic shift to a leaner product line and an unwavering focus on quality and innovation yielded remarkable results. In his first fiscal year following his return, which concluded in September 1997, Apple incurred a staggering loss of $1.04 billion and was perilously close to insolvency.

However, within just one year, the company achieved a remarkable turnaround, posting a profit of $309 million. This dramatic transformation was a testament to Jobs' vision and leadership.

Pioneering Innovation

Jobs' revitalization of Apple paved the way for a new era of innovation. The company introduced groundbreaking products that reshaped entire industries. Among these innovations were:

  1. iPod: In 2001, Apple launched the iPod, a portable digital audio player that revolutionized the way people listened to music on the go.
  2. iTunes Store: In 2003, the Apple iTunes Store made its debut, offering a seamless platform for purchasing and downloading music, transforming the music industry's distribution model.
  3. iPhone: The introduction of the iPhone in 2007 redefined the smartphone landscape, setting new standards for mobile communication and technology.
  4. iPad: In 2010, Apple released the iPad, a tablet computer that not only created a new product category but also altered how people consumed digital content.


Steve Jobs' return to Apple in 1997 marked a pivotal moment in the company's history. His unwavering commitment to streamlining operations, focusing on innovation, and making tough decisions revitalized Apple, propelling it from the brink of insolvency to unprecedented success.

Jobs' legacy extends far beyond Apple's financial resurgence; it encompasses a profound lesson in leadership, strategy, and innovation. His approach to "deciding what not to do" serves as a guiding principle for businesses seeking to thrive in the ever-evolving tech landscape. Steve Jobs' remarkable journey at Apple reminds us that visionary leadership and a relentless pursuit of excellence can indeed change the world.