A brilliant marketer, an innovative thinker, and a driven leader – there is much we can learn from the former CEO of Apple. Steve Jobs transformed our worldview, and truly impacted each of our lives individually. His work challenged our perspectives and made us “need” products we had never seen. I could probably write a novel listing all of the lessons and bits of brilliance we can glean from his life, but in an effort to keep thinks simple (in true Steve Jobs fashion), I want to highlight three main things we can learn from his genius in practice.
1) We all have a weakness for things that look cool. Let’s face it – you think the features are great, but the real reason you cannot keep your hands off the new iPads at the Apple store is because they look so cool! We are inherently drawn toward these sleek and beautiful devices that could double as modern art. For more than a decade, Apple has refused to compromise in design, and they have been well rewarded for their stubbornness. For Apple, form is not second to function – they go hand in hand. They want customers to integrate Apple devices into their lifestyles, so they accept nothing less than top-notch design from the outer casing to the inner-workings of the systems.
“The only problem with Microsoft is they just have no taste. They have absolutely no taste. And I don’t mean that in a small way, I mean that in a big way, in the sense that they don’t think of original ideas, and they don’t bring much culture into their products.” – YouTube
What does this mean for our business? Our software has to perform well AND look good. Our headquarters must be functional AND an inviting place for clients to visit. Our printed products must be accurate AND the best looking labels on the shelf. There is no payback for ignoring good design.
2) Ease of use is more important than having all the bells and whistles. My husband and I consistently have conversations about whether his Android is better than my iPhone. He always argues his case with 2-3 features that his phone has, like Adobe Flash, or the ability to use his phone as a mobile hotspot. Of course, he wins for the sake of argument, but Steve Jobs might say he is missing the point. Consumers as a whole do not want the phone that has the most features or can do the most obscure tasks; they want the iPhone. The simple operating system on the iPhone works for the tech-savvy and the technically-impaired. The minimal design removes complication from everyday tasks, and other intangibles such as good design, quick access to downloadable music, and integration with other devices have helped make Apple the #1 Smartphone manufacturer in the world.
“That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” — BusinessWeek interview, May 1998
What does this mean for our business? We must make our software simple and intuitive. Interactions with our client services team should be hassle free, and our ultimate job as a company is to remove complexity from our clients’ processes.
3) You must always be thinking about and planning for the future. Steve Jobs was consistently projecting the future of his company. He anticipated consumers’ future needs and desires and made strategic assumptions that positioned his company at the forefront of the tech world. But perhaps the most important future planning that Steve did was his planning to leave the company. Steve’s terminal illness put him in the unique position to be consistently aware of the uncertainty of his future. For the last few years, Steve has no doubt been empowering key people at Apple to be prepared for the time when he would no longer be in executive leadership. True leadership is reaching a point where momentum can be maintained and progress can continue, even when you are no longer in the trenches. While Wall Street has some uncertainty about the future of Apple, no one expects that Apple’s dynasty will crash overnight, because this forward-thinking company couldn’t avoid planning for their future leadership. While unconfirmed, Gizmodo even reports that there may be a “special four year plan” left behind by Jobs that will help ensure the company doesn’t stray far from Jobs’ vision in the next few years.
“I mean, some people say, ‘Oh, God, if [Jobs] got run over by a bus, Apple would be in trouble.’ And, you know, I think it wouldn’t be a party, but there are really capable people at Apple. My job is to make the whole executive team good enough to be successors, so that’s what I try to do.” – CNNMoney
What does this mean for our business? While it might seem daunting and impossible, forward thinking is absolutely critical. We must anticipate our customers’ needs and take action to prepare our products, services, and people for the inevitable changes coming in our future.
As you evaluate your business and your personal progress this week, remember Steve Jobs and find ways to integrate his philosophies into your world. Make form a priority, remove complexities from your processes, and plan for the future.