Whether it is a company, a product, a methodology, a marketing campaign, an organisation – if it is wildly successful there is probably a core that makes up for 95% of that success. If you want to copy the success, you need to find the core. The core is the essential aspect that drives value.
Let's take a couple of examples. One of the best that comes to my mind is when a journalist asked Steve Jobs questions about Apple's stock performance on the public markets. I think this was just after he announced the first iPhone, and nobody knew that it was going to be the most defining consumer product of our times. The journalist was asking questions about Apple's stock performance during the last quarter or something similar. And Steve Jobs' answer was:
"If you keep your eye on the profit, you're going to skimp on the product. But if you focus on making really great products, then the profits will follow."
Jobs understood that the core of Apple's success was relentless focus on making really great products. He understood that every other aspect of success, such as revenue which gives profits, and profits which will take care of the stock performance, is a domino effect of focusing on making really great products. He understood that they shouldn't focus on technical specifications like camera megapixels or CPU speed. No, the core of Apple's success would be an unbeatable user experience.
When I set out to become a writer, I read books that other writers had written about writing. I listened to interviews with some of the greatest writers in the world. I tried to find commonalities. The only consistently appearing commonality I found among the world's best writers, whether it was non-fiction or fiction, books or newspaper articles, was that they all seem to force themselves to read and write every day. So that is the core of being a good writer. Until you've got the core right, don't do anything else.
The core is often illusive and can be very hard to find. It is easy to get fooled when inspecting something successful from the outside. To find the core we often need to be actively looking for it, with a scientific and thorough approach.
I think this is a valuable mindset for most things in life. Find the core that creates the actual value or success, and get it right. Focus on it until perfection. Don't get distracted with factors that work at layers beyond the core – you will never get as much leverage. If you have a shitty product, the core of your business should be to create a better one, not working on creating stellar marketing of your shitty product.
All this may seem obvious, but every day I see examples of people or organizations that don't seem to understand what the core of reaching success within their area is. So see this blog post as a little reminder to take a step back, and to look at what you are focusing on, and to ask yourself whether it is the core.