8 Valuable Lessons Steve Jobs Left as Part of His Legacy
By: Hillel Fuld
As soon as the Jobs bio hit the shelves, I ordered the book. But then, as I waited for it to arrive, I decided to download an MP3 version of the book and listen to it on my way to and back from work. I just finished all 24 files and the first thing I am doing is starting again, this time in hard cover with a pen and paper to take notes.
No, I am not kidding, nor am I an Apple fanboy that has set his goals to defend anything that is Apple against all criticism. The book and the man himself were just so super fascinating both on a professional level and a personal one, that I want to make sure I did not miss or do not forget any of the information in the book. And so, I am taking notes.
So what did I find so fascinating about Steve Jobs as an innovator, a father, and a friend? If I had to sum up my fascination in one word, I would say the word would be “Contradictions”. He was so full of them, and I truly believe that without these complexities, Apple would not be Apple. In fact, I am going to do something I have never done before in a post and paste a Facebook comment I just wrote to someone who trashed Jobs as a person in response to my status praising the book.
I wrote: “And yes, he was seriously problematic, but the real question is, would Apple be Apple if Jobs was not Jobs? The answer is clear and it is a big fat no. His nature motivated people, it got them to strive to perfection and professionalism. Not to cut corners. Had he not been such a clear obsessive compulsive, and had he not planted that mentality in the DNA of Apple, I am pretty sure iOS, Mac OX, and the iPhone would look more like Web OS, Windows, and a BlackBerry.”
Here are eight lessons, positive and negative, that I learned from the book and that I will take with me in all my future endeavors, both personal and professional:
1: No Such Thing as Too Perfect
Throughout his life, Jobs remembered and acted upon a lesson he learned at a very young age from his adopted father, Paul Jobs. Paul had a passion for building and repairing things, whether it was cars, shelves, or the fence surrounding their house. He told Jobs that every part of a project must be crafted to perfection, even the parts you don’t see. Now, some might say that Jobs took this one step too far with his complete obsession with esthetics. For example, when designing the original Macintosh, he was presented with thousands of shades of beige for the case, but none were to his satisfaction, so he created his own.
OK, that is a little nuts, but the fact remains that Jobs cared very much about every little detail of Apple products. Even the insides of the Mac and other Apple products were designed to perfection. Given Jobs’ obsession with keeping his systems closed and fully integrated, he made these devices almost impossible to open, which guaranteed no one would ever see the insides, yet he spent months designing it as if it was going on display in a museum the very next day.
One can debate how far you should go with design, but what is not up for debate is that Jobs’ sense of design and esthetic combined with his extreme need for perfection, have differentiated Apple as a company that makes excellent products and that has recently topped the tech charts as the most valuable tech company in the world.
2: Honesty Works
This point is undoubtedly the most debated topic surrounding Steve Jobs. He was not a nice man. In fact, many people will make the claim that all of his innovation and wisdom might not be worth all the heart ache he caused people both at work and in his personal life. Simply put, the man was a jerk. Except as MG Siegler so elegantly puts it, that is exactly what is sorely lacking in the technology and startup world of today. Read his post here.
Allow me to sum it up and ad my two cents. Could Jobs have been slightly nicer and more gentle with his surroundings? Absolutely. But if I had to choose between a nice and gentle Jobs and the Jobs that was, I would say, the latter is preferable, by far, at least as far as the world of technology and innovation is concerned.
When Jobs saw something that did not excite him immediately, then he labeled it crap, only in not such nice words. What that caused almost immediately, was the creator of that “crap” to consider what he/she might be doing wrong and how the product can be improved. Had Jobs been more politically correct, whether it was with the Mac, the iPod, iPhone, iPad, or Pixar, one thing is for sure, none of those products would be where they are today.
3: Market Research
Many of the things Jobs said, in his name or in others’ throughout his life, have left a huge impact on me. Things like “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” and others. One of his best quotes in my opinion is in the name of Henry Ford who said “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse”.
Jobs completely delegitimized many things that others before (and after) him saw as crucial parts of a successful business. One such thing was market research. “The market does not know what it wants”, Jobs said on many occasions. “We need to tell them what they want”. Now, that might sounds nuts to you, and truth be told, there is of course room for market research with certain aspects of product development. Having said that, as Gruber so correctly points out, take a look at the smartphones that existed before the iPhone.
No one was yelling back then that smartphones can be so much more. We were happy with what we had. Had you asked me, I might have said smartphones need better sound when playing music or a better processor. I would not have said that I need a phone that is a full internet device, an advanced music player, and a full fledged multimedia consumption hub. In fact, I wouldn’t have said that because that would have been deemed impossible. But it wasn’t impossible. Jobs made it happen not by asking the market, but by dreaming something up and then making it a reality.
Steve Jobs got a call one day from Larry Page, CEO of Google to meet with him and give him tips on being a “good CEO”. Jobs was still extremely angry with Google about Android and what he believed was blatant theft. But he agreed to meet Page. The main lesson Jobs told him was that Google needs to focus, otherwise the company would turn into another Microsoft.
Jobs told Page that Google needs to list five products that will be the core business of Google and that he should kill the rest. Jobs himself made sure to list five top ideas for Apple at every Apple annual retreat and to focus energy and resources on those ideas, and those ideas alone.
Jobs excelled at focus and like many things in his life, he might have taken it a bit too far. He said at the end of his life that the reason he wanted the book written was for his kids to know why he wasn’t around. He wanted them to know what he was so busy with, what he was creating, and why he was always so busy. That was sad to read, but the truth is, Jobs zoned in on something, whether it was the Mac, the iPod, or his love of Buddhism, Zen, and meditation, and he always took it to the extreme. He did not do things half way, ever. A lesson we can all learn and implement, possibly with a little moderation, but a valuable lesson, none the less.
5: Dream Big
OK, this one is somewhat of a no-brainer, but it is important to emphasize that Steve Jobs single handedly revolutionized seven or even eight (the ninth, TV is still a question mark) industries. While some have made the claim that Jobs was nothing more than a tweaker since he did not downright invent anything, he changed the following markets forever:
- Personal computing
- Digital publishing
- Animated films
- Tablet computing
- Mobile technology
-Digital content (apps)
- TV (just wait)
Every one of these industries has a phenomenal story behind how he did what he did, but to name one, retail shopping, the chapter of the book about Apple stores truly blew me away. When Jobs had the idea for Apple retail stores, he said he did not think Macs belonged on a shelf of Target next to a Compaq or Dell computer. He did not think that a salesman who does not specialize in the Mac could do it justice, and he believed Apple consumers deserved more.
This was yet another case of his need to control everything about his products, even the experience of purchasing one. Well, the board, the investors, and the press all opposed the idea and said it would fail. He spent the better part of a year conceptualizing what the experience of a retail store should be and then he opened the first Apple store. The 5th Ave Apple store alone became the highest grossing retail store in New York in absolute revenue. The over 300 Apple stores worldwide have been a tremendous success both in sales and brand awareness. Jobs dreamt big then carefully made that dream a reality, a very successful one.
6: Every Detail of Life Matters
What amazed me throughout the book was seeing just how much Jobs’ childhood and religious spiritual beliefs affected the very essence of what he did at Apple. I already mentioned his father’s engineering philosophy above, but that is just one example of many others. In reality, Jobs was abandoned at birth and put up for adoption. The one condition his biological parents gave the adoption agency was that the parents of the family that would adopt the baby would have to be college graduates. The lawyer that was supposed to get Jobs ended up changing his mind when the baby was a boy and not a girl. And so Paul Jobs, a high school dropout ended up adopting Steve Jobs.
Jobs was abandoned, but as he said many times throughout his life, his adopted parents would not call it that, they would call him special and chosen. They would emphasize throughout his childhood that they singled him out and chose him, specifically. Of course, Jobs went on to live his life believing that he was special, and not abandoned. That obviously led to an increased self esteem, as opposed to what might have happened if he had grown up believing he was indeed abandoned.
The same is true for the house that Jobs grew up in. It was designed and created by Joseph Eichler who was known for creating homes that were designed with simplicity, included high tech features such as heated floors, and were affordable, which enabled him to market them to mass market. Sound familiar? Jobs stated on many instances that those houses were the inspiring force behind such products like the iPhone and others.
7: It’s Never Too Late
This is a crucial lesson that Steve Jobs taught in both his personal life and as the CEO of Apple. Let’s start with the latter. Jobs created Apple and as you know, he was ousted as its CEO in 1985. For a decade, Jobs continues on to other things such as Next and Pixar and when he eventually returned to Apple, it was in the gutters. I am talking $10 a share and 90 days away from bankruptcy. When he died, the stock price was $400 and Apple was the most valuable tech company in the world, more than Microsoft, Google, IBM, HP, or Intel.
Another interesting fact about Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple, is that there was never a product he was involved with for which he did not pull the handbrake at one point or another, generally at the end of the development cycle. This was also the case for the iPhone. At the end of the development process, right before it was unveiled, Jobs entered Ive’s room and told him that he had not slept that night because they were doing it all wrong. He then gathered the team that had been working on the design of the iPhone for 9 months, and told them that they would be starting over and creating a new phone that would emphasize the display, which he thought should have been the main attraction of the iPhone. He was right.
On another note, Jobs was not the strongest at being a good family man. But at the end of his life, he managed to make amends with his long lost daughter who he pretty much abandoned at birth and reunited with several times throughout his life, but never had a good relationship with. He also made sure there was real closure with his career long arch enemy Bill Gates as well as Google’s CEO Larry Page, who he had been angry at for years because of Android “copying” iPhone. Jobs was nasty to many of these people and others throughout his life, but what seems to have happened to him at the end of his life, is what happens to many people who are faced with death. He got his priorities in order and made right what he had wronged for so many years.
8: Grey is a Great Color
One thing I have in common with Steve Jobs is somewhat of a binary view of life and products. Or at least that is what many of my readers have told me over the years. Things are either amazing or horrible, there is no middle ground. Except there is, and Jobs couldn’t see it.
Now when it comes to products, especially in technology, Jobs might have been right in that there is no room for mediocrity. He wanted everything Apple made to be excellent and he did everything in his power, to make that a reality. Having said that, there is a role for grey in the world and Jobs was not able to see that. He would enter the room of an Apple engineer and tell them that their work was crap and that they need to stop. At one point, he even pulled the plug, literally, on a project and made the developer lose four months of code.
The point is, the world is not a binary place and there is not only good or bad, excellent or horrible. In fact, the whole debate Jobs had with Gates and Microsoft as well as Google later on, proves that there is another way. Excellent products for which every detail is controlled serves one purpose, and good products that reach mass consumers by licensing to multiple vendors serve another product. But as far as Jobs was concerned, Windows and Android were not perfect, they were not excellent, and so they therefore sucked.
I literally had to cut out ten more lessons I learned from the book in order to make this post a somewhat normal length. If you listen to one thing I say in all my past and future articles, listen to this. Stop what you’re doing, go out and buy the Steve Jobs biography. It will teach you about perfection, professionalism, and innovation. It will teach you that not everything is so black and white and while many tech experts idolize Steve Jobs, he was, as a person, far from being an idol.
Most importantly though, the book will inspire you to do whatever it is you’re doing in life with more attention to detail and it will show you that you, with passion and a little faith, can change the world if you set your goals to do just that.
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