5 Leadership Lessons From Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs-Leadership Lessons

Whether you’re a “Mac or PC,” you have to acknowledge the genius that was Apple and Pixar co-founder Steve Jobs. While there will probably never be another visionary in the tech industry like him again, we can try to understand his methods and different ways of thinking and, where applicable, apply these principals to help us develop as leaders. Steve Jobs cofounded Apple in his parents’ garage in 1976, was ousted in 1985, returned to rescue it from near bankruptcy in 1997, and by the time he died, in October 2011, had built it into the world’s most valuable company. The visionary also had impact on several other industries – animated movies, music and digital publishing to name a few. His inventions were so disruptive to the retail and media industries that when commerce moved to the web, the major players in these niches lost to the Apple ecosystem. These leadership lessons from Steve Jobs are excerpts from Walter Isaacson’s, “The Real Lessons of Steve Jobs”.

  1. “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”: was inscribed on the first Apple marketing brochure. This quote summed up Jobs’ instinct to simplify things by zeroing in on their essence and eliminating unnecessary components. Jobs learned to admire simplicity while he was working at Atari when he dropped out of college. The games at Atari’s had no manual and as such, were uncomplicated enough that an intoxicated student could figure them out. The only instructions for its Star Trek game were: “1. Insert quarter. 2. Avoid Klingons.” An example of this desire for simplicity was when Jobs was shown a cluttered set of proposed navigation screens for iDVD, which allowed users to burn video onto a disk, he jumped up and drew a simple rectangle on a whiteboard. “Here’s the new application,” he said. “It’s got one window. You drag your video into the window. Then you click the button that says ‘Burn.’ That’s it. That’s what we’re going to make.”
  2. When behind, don’t just level up – move ahead: An innovative company is not just the first to come up with new ideas, it knows how to move ahead when it sees itself behind. When the original iMac was built, its focus was on managing a user’s photos and videos, but was behind when dealing with music. People with PCs were downloading and swapping music and then ripping and burning their own CDs. The iMac’s slot drive couldn’t burn CDs. “I felt like a dope,” Jobs said. “I thought we had missed it.” But instead of merely catching up by upgrading the iMac’s CD drive, he decided to create a system that would transform the music industry. The result was the combination of iTunes, the iTunes Store, and the iPod, which allowed users to buy, share, manage, store, and play music better than they could with any other devices.
  3. Focus on quality first, profit will follow: When Jobs and his small team designed the original Macintosh, in the early 1980s, his instructions were to make it “insanely great.” “Don’t worry about price, just specify the computer’s abilities,” he told the original team leader. At his first retreat with the Macintosh team, he began by writing a maxim on his whiteboard: “Don’t compromise.” The machine that resulted cost too much and led to Jobs’s ouster from Apple. But the Macintosh also “put a dent in the universe,” as he said, by speeding up the home computer revolution. And in the long run he got the balance right: Focus on making the product great and the profits will follow.
  4. Don’t over-rely on market research: When Jobs took his original Macintosh team on its first retreat, one member asked whether they should do some market research to see what customers wanted. “No,” Jobs replied, “because customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them.” He invoked Henry Ford’s line “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!’” Caring deeply about what customers want is much different from continually asking them what they want; it requires intuition and instinct about desires that have not yet formed. “Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page,” Jobs explained. Sometimes, it meant using himself and his circle as the focus group for a new product or service. For example, there were many portable music players around in 2000, but Jobs felt they were all lame, and as a music fanatic he wanted a simple device that would allow him to carry a thousand songs in his pocket. “We made the iPod for ourselves,” he said, “and when you’re doing something for yourself, or your best friend or family, you’re not going to cheese out.”
  5. Change reality: Jobs’ ability to push the impossible was called his Reality Distortion Field, after an episode of Star Trek in which aliens create an alternative reality through sheer will. An example was when Jobs was designing the iPhone. He decided that he wanted its face to be a tough, scratchproof glass, rather than plastic. He met with Wendell Weeks, the CEO of Corning, who told him that Corning had developed a chemical exchange process in the 1960s that led to what it dubbed “Gorilla glass.” Jobs replied that he wanted a major shipment of Gorilla glass in six months. Weeks said that Corning was not making the glass and didn’t have that capacity. “Don’t be afraid,” Jobs replied. This stunned Weeks, who was unfamiliar with Jobs’s Reality Distortion Field. He tried to explain that a false sense of confidence would not overcome engineering challenges, but Jobs had repeatedly shown that he didn’t accept that premise. He stared unblinking at Weeks. “Yes, you can do it,” he said. “Get your mind around it. You can do it.” Weeks recalls that he shook his head in astonishment and then called the managers of Corning’s facility in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, which had been making LCD displays, and told them to convert immediately to making Gorilla glass full-time. “We did it in under six months,” he says. “We put our best scientists and engineers on it, and we just made it work.” As a result, every piece of glass on an iPhone or an iPad is made in America by Corning.

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