Twenty lessons I took from “Steve Jobs”

Posted by A. Smith on Feb-17-2012

“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” —Apple’s “Think Different” commercial, 1997

I just finished reading “Steve Jobs.” Trying to wrap my head around who Jobs was and what he stood for is tough. Frankly, for as much as he loved, even craved simplicity, he was the epitome of complex.

I know this: I remain in awe of the work Jobs did. While I question some of his tactics, he did, indeed, change the world. In doing so, he built perhaps the most powerful and emotional brand ever created: Apple.


Here are 20 lessons I took away from the Steve Jobs biography:

  1. Never underestimate the power of a name.
    In a place where tech language ruled, Jobs and his partner Steve Wozniak broke the mold by naming their company Apple Computer. They considered names such as Matrix and Executek, but instead went with a name far more friendly, simple, and different. Brilliant move.
  2. Simplicity reigns.
    There’s good reason our toddlers have conquered the iPhone, and it’s not because they’re brilliant. Apple designers and engineers take excruciating measures to make things simple. From the beginning, Steve declared, “The main thing in our design is that we have to make things intuitively obvious.”
  3. Blow people away with marketing.
    Wow, did Jobs get marketing. People like me love people like him! Jobs demanded extraordinary creative work and, boy, did he get it. From Apple’s “Here’s to the crazy ones” ad to its unprecedented U2 co-branding to its “Think Different” tagline, Apple evoked creativity and emotion to the core. Jobs actually cried the first time advertising wizard Lee Clow unveiled, “Think Different.”
  4. Design products that have cultural gravity.
    Jobs and Apple’s lead designer Johnny Ives spent days, weeks, and months perfecting every aspect of a product’s design. Ives argued most small consumer products have a “disposable feel” to them when what they need is “cultural gravity.” There is something about the iPod, for example, that makes it feel “significant, not disposable.”
  5. Products have a purpose.
    Jobs, along with Pixar cofounder and creative force John Lasseter, believed products have an essence to them, a purpose for which they were made. Thus, the concept behind Toy Story: “As for toys, their purpose is to be played with by kids, and thus their existential fear is of being discarded or upstaged by new toys.” I won’t ever look at or market products the same again.
  6. Be a pirate.
    As Jobs put it to one Pepsi executive (who came to work for him), “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?” Gamble on a vision. Go against the grain. Be a pirate, and prove the naysayers wrong. All along, people told Jobs he couldn’t do what he set out to do. 

    When he announced Apple Stores, for example, one consultant declared, “I give them two years before they’re turning out the lights on a very painful and expensive mistake.” By 2010, the Apple store grossed more per square foot than any store in the world, and grossed more in total than any store in New York, including Saks and Bloomindale’s.

  7. Integrate software and hardware.
    From the beginning, Jobs demanded integrating software and hardware. He was often and openly criticized for this. Refusing to waiver, however, paid off allowing Apple to transform the entire technology industry by turning the personal computer into a “digital hub” that coordinated a variety of devices, from music players to video cameras. 

    “Microsoft wrote software, Dell and Compaq made hardware, Sony produced a lot of digital devices, Adobe developed a lot of applications.” Unlike the other guys, Apple was in a position to do it all. Hello, iTunes, iPhone, iPod, and iPad!

  8. Follow a simple set of marketing principles.
    Apple investor and chairman Mike Markkula developed “The Apple Marketing Philosophy,” which outlined three marketing principles that guide Apple to this day:
    •   Empathy: Connect intimately with the feelings of customers; understand them better than any other company.
    •   Focus: Pour energy into a few core opportunities; eliminate all others.
    •   Impute: Present products in a creative, professional manner; people do judge a book by its cover.
  9. Quality design always matters.
    Jobs learned superior craftsmanship from his dad, who taught him to do things right even when people would never know the difference. Jobs took this to heart making sure even the interior design of Apple’s products was beautiful.

10. Play at the intersection of humanities and science.
Jobs held steadfastly to the belief that the real magic happens when art and science converge. This was a huge competitive advantage over other technology companies such as Microsoft, and Jobs believed this combination is the key to the future.

11. If something isn’t right, fix it.
After months of prototyping the Apple store, Ron Johnson (hired to develop the stores) realized they had something fundamentally wrong. It would mean changing everything. Jobs said, “I’m tired. I don’t know if I can design another store from scratch.” But, he did. The team started over and the results speak for themselves. “If something isn’t right, you can’t just ignore it and say you’ll fix it later,” he said. “That’s what other companies do.”

12. Make decisions quickly when the situation merits it.
When Jobs returned to Apple, he wanted to re-price stock options to stop the hemorrhaging of top employees. The Board proposed a study. Knowing this could take months, Jobs demanded immediate approval or said he would quit. He got his way, and it worked.

13. Random collisions breed creativity. Design space for them.
Jobs believed “the right kind of building can do great things for a culture.” He designed Pixar’s headquarters to promote spontaneous meetings and collaboration. There was a central atrium for people to mingle. The front doors, main stairs, theater, and screening rooms all led into it. Conference rooms looked out onto it, and it held the café and mailboxes, making it almost impossible not to engage with others.

14. Get out of the boardroom and onto the streets.
Jobs was infamous for walking meetings, thereby, replacing presentations, conference tables, and closed-in energy with meaningful dialogue. Great approach.

15. Control the whole experience.
From designing a closed system so people couldn’t fiddle with products (customers can’t even replace the battery of an iPhone) to opening Apple stores to control the experience of buying an Apple product, Jobs was all about control – some argue to a fault. Regardless, this obsession reinforced the integrity, simplicity, and innovation of Apple products.

16. Intuition matters…sometimes more than market research.
When asked about what market research went into the Macintosh, Jobs responded, “Did Alexander Graham Bell do any market research before he invented the telephone?” Likewise, Jobs didn’t do any market research for the iPad, stating, “It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want.” While I still believe there’s value in market research, this demonstrates it should complement not drive strategy.

17. Never start a company with the goal of getting rich.
Although Jobs became a billionaire, money was never what drove him. He believed in a) making products you love (thus, the success of the iPOD, which Apple’s music lovers wanted more for themselves than the outside world), and b) creating a sustainable company (pretty sure, he accomplished this).
A + B = success. In Apple’s case, wild success.

18. Be a stickler.
Everything matters. Jobs was obsessed with quality and with getting things just right from stage lighting for launches to the corners of the iPhone to the guts of a Macintosh to the perfect voiceover for a television ad. His level of detail and commitment to excellence should inspire us all to always do our best. Don’t settle for mediocrity. People appreciate the results.

19. Embrace a child’s curiosity.
Jobs was a piece of work as a child. Yes, he was brilliant, but he was also mischievous, always getting into things and pulling pranks. Fortunately, his parents were slow to scold. Instead they gave Jobs the freedom to tinker, explore, and investigate how things and the world worked. This is a good reminder to let our kids build things, take things apart, stir things up, and not always walk a straight line.

20. Think Different!
Enough said.

Obviously, this list only scratches the surface. There are endless lessons packed into the book’s 571 pages. I encourage you to read “Steve Jobs,” join me in sorting the good from the bad (the man could be ruthless), and act on the lessons you draw to achieve greatness in business – and maybe even put a dent in the universe!



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