Focus on Your Product, Not History

History isn’t written in the present.

While we are in the middle of change or struggling with adversity, we can’t always see the upside of the situation or an eventual positive outcome. All we can do is give our best effort, push forward, and leave the documentation to the historians.

Reading Marco Arment’s accounting of the Tumblr story, I can relate to how easy it is to second-guess decisions and have doubts about the future while in the middle of product development and funding issues. What stood out for me in that story was the intense focus of David Karp, the founder. He knew what was most important and made sure that other concerns didn’t get in the way. His focus was on his product.

As tech companies go, Tumblr already has a decent saga for historians to write.

Who would have guessed that Apple would be the most important tech company in the world from the perspective of 1997. It took the return of Steve Jobs—one of the most focused individuals to ever start a company—to resurrect the flailing corporation. Writing the story of Apple during their “doomed” years1 would have been a complete waste of time.

Every lengthy development cycle stresses individuals in a company. That’s because most of the feedback is in the form of bug reports and design criticisms. It takes a strong point of view to keep a product on track and push it out the door. It takes ignoring the premature writing of history and focusing on what’s important right now.

My team is in the process of developing MoneyWell for iPad. We just finished minor updates for our Mac and iPhone releases and those were incredibly difficult for me. Not because the development was tricky, but because I had to ignore requests for changes to those apps and focus on what we needed for our iPad version. It required saying “no” to customers and to myself over and over again.

It’s tempting for me to try and fix everything, especially when in my head I can see where our products will be in 12 to 18 months. It’s ego busting to field criticism for flaws that I know exist and know will be eliminated—later. I can’t defend my decisions today, but instead have to take the punches, apologize, and ask for a bit more patience.

I have to leave it for historians to decide if I was focused enough to produce excellent software. Time will tell if the choices I make today were poor, mediocre, or amazing. There’s no time for me to beat myself up for past mistakes, I have to give 100 percent of my energy and effort to my team and my customers through my product design today.

Living in the past opens me up to drowning in self-pity and time spent projecting any possible future is mental folly. I can only change what I’m doing right now. I can only make decisions for my next action. I can choose to see this as limiting or liberating.

Today I choose to be liberated and continue to improve our company and our products.


  1. Yes, I know that Apple will forever be “doomed” for some tech writers