Apple became the first company to be worth a trillion dollars. They did that by spending five years single-mindedly focusing on doing profitable work. They’ve consistently pushed themselves toward high margin luxury goods and avoided just about everything else. Belying their first two decades, when they focused on breakthrough work that was difficult and perhaps important, nothing they’ve done recently has been either. Tim Cook made a promise to the shareholders and he kept it.
Amazon became the second company to be worth a trillion dollars. And just about everything they focus on is difficult. They carry more than a million products, ship on a moment’s notice, rarely have a glitch, host a bulk of the internet’s traffic and disrupt one industry after another. Tons of tiny details, many leaps. Investors have patiently waited for them to be incredibly profitable, but the company focuses on the relentless, incremental work of the difficult instead. A totally different promise, kept.
But the most daring and generous, those that are often overlooked and never hit a trillion dollars in the stock market, are left to do the important work. The work of helping others be seen, or building safe spaces. The work of creating opportunity or teaching and modelling new ways forward. The work of changing things for the better.
Changing things for the better is rarely applauded by Wall Street, but Wall Street might not be the point of your work. It might simply be to do work you’re proud of, to contribute, and to leave things a little better than you found them.
Profitable, difficult, or important—each is an option. A choice we get to make every day. ‘None of the above’ is also available, but I’m confident we can seek to do better than that.