Steve Jobs’ “Drop of Poison”

It’s been a long time since I worked with Steve Jobs, but he had this great line (he had many of them):

If you put a drop of poison in a glass wine, you get poison.
And if you put a drop of wine in a glass of poison, you get poison.

A drop of poison?

It’s about never compromising. It’s romantic and pure and totally Steve. Yet even a moment of thought tells you it doesn’t lead to optimizing. And if you think Steve didn’t optimize, well, you never had the privilege of watching him work.

So what’s the moral of the story?

You need to know whether you’re making a…

  1. “Poison decision” — the kind of decision that can accept no compromise? Is it pure? Does it fundamentally represent your brand promise?
  2. Or an “Optimizing decision” — messy, complicated, and requiring research and optimization?

Here’s a warning: almost EVERY decision will initially look like an Optimizing Decision. They are not.

Just knowing, “Is this a Poison decision or an Optimization decision?” will change your mindset and approach:

  • How much time to spend on the decision
  • What data to demand to support the decision
  • What people to involve in the decision
  • How to communication your decision to the market
  • And lots more…

When you’d talk to Steve, he’d make almost every decision sound like a “poison decision.” But personally, I believe Steve Jobs was Steve Jobs in large part because he knew which decisions were Poison and which were Optimization.


  • For your next 5 decisions – just 5 for now – ask yourself FIRST whether you have a Poison or Optimization decision.
  • See if your answer to that first question changes how you think about the answer.
  • If you decide every one of those 5 decisions is an Optimization decision, push yourself to make sure you’re not taking the easy way out.
  • If you are not 100% sure of whether a decision is a Poison or Optimization decision, give me a call. Brand promise is so important to me, so it’ll be a fun, interesting discussion. No charge.


Image credit: CC 2.0 Robert-Couse-Baker

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