One of the most innovative minds of the past century, Steve Jobs founded Apple and introduced the Macintosh computer, as well as the iPod, the iPad, and the iPhone, to the world. In addition, he created Pixar and is one of the developers of Toy Story, a film that impressed Disney so much that it quickly bought the company that made it. Few other people have created such disruptive technologies and captured the loyalty of so many individuals. Jobs masterfully led Apple until his death, and his business philosophies can teach today’s executives a number of important lessons, including the following:
Imagine a new reality.
Jobs rose to success because he believed in the impossible. Before he imagined Apple, he worked at Atari with Steve Wozniak. One night, he challenged Wozniak to create a game in four days. While Wozniak said that the game he envisioned would take months to program, he ended up unveiling Breakout four days later.
Jobs was a natural innovator who did not play by the rules. Instead, he imagined a whole new reality. When he felt that Apple had missed out by not giving Macs the ability to burn CDs, he began to think about what would be better than CDs. Shortly thereafter, Apple introduced iTunes, complete with a store for purchasing media, and the iPad, which could store and transport much more media than a CD. Some people say that Jobs had a Reality Distortion Field, a reference to Star Trek and the ability of aliens to create new realities based on will alone.
Simplify whenever possible.
What sets Apple products apart from those of its competitors is their ease of use. Jobs pushed for simplification whenever possible, a drive that harkens back to his Eastern frame of mind. Pulling on Zen traditions, he tried to make devices as streamlined as possible. For example, he eliminated the on/off switch on the iPod, a feat that involved incredible processing power and programming, but one that made the product very simple to use. Jobs consistently created minimalist devices that outperformed other options on the market. A perfect example of this is the iPhone, which redefined cellular devices by turning them into miniature computers with beautiful, logical interfaces. Just as the iPhone took over the role of several other devices, the Apple TV redefined the home entertainment experience by creating a single hub for viewing television and web-based content.
Use failure to learn.
Failure provides the wisdom to make better choices, provided that leaders take the time to learn from it, and Jobs was no stranger to failure. In 1985, he was very publicly fired from the company that he helped build from scratch. However, Jobs eventually came back to Apple; and when he did, he thought hard about what happened and what the original vision of the company was. Soon thereafter, he introduced the iMac, which brought Apple back into the public eye and helped usher in the Internet age. Instead of letting his failure destroy his career, he used it to reinvent himself and, eventually, his brand.
Bring products into focus.
When Jobs came back to Apple in the late 1990s, the company was creating a number of different peripheral products and a handful of computers. Seeing the craziness in this lack of focus, he called a meeting and created a two-by-two grid. Then, he wrote Consumer and Professional on the top, followed by Desktop and Portable on the side. Then, he told his employees that they needed to create only four products, but four excellent products. With that, he canceled all the company’s other products. This radical move largely saved Apple and repositioned the company to become the market leader that it still is today.
Jobs believed that deciding what not to do was every bit as important as deciding what to do. Each year, he would brainstorm with his best employees the 10 things they should do next and then strike everything off the list except three things. By focusing their priorities, business leaders ensure that they do things right.
Learn how to tell a good story.
One of Jobs’ greatest strengths was his ability to sell his products. His marketing genius derived from his ability to tell a good story. Again and again, Jobs told a story of a person underserved by complicated technologies. He would first introduce complexity as a vile villain and then explain how the newest Apple product was vanquishing it. In these stories, Apple products did not just improve things, they completely reinvented them.
Great leaders understand the importance of telling a story, which can rally employees behind them and build a loyal following of employees. The best leaders know that their job is to make the world a better place and that selling products comes second. This narrative, which Jobs perfected, continues to attract customers. Tesla, for example, is foremost a company dedicated to reducing energy consumption and not just a car manufacturer.