Business lessons from Steve Jobs

Recently I read the book Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. As I was reading I found myself taking notes, jotting down some of the thoughts, quotes and actions that really struck me as interesting. Other than his enormous ego and insensitivity, one of the things that stood out to me was how Steve Jobs really engaged with many so many different elements and levels of business and life and didn’t spend much time separating the two. For Steve design, ethics, self, peace, success and spirituality really needed to be understood together to be understood at all.

Steve JobsThere are few people who have ever achieved the dramatic successes Steve Jobs did. It’s probably a good idea then, if you are building a company, to studying some of the insights Steve understood naturally. Some of these were his own thoughts, others he garnered from his mentors.

Want to build a great company? Focus on the basics and do them really well. Great products, great marketing, great distribution.

Steve’s dream was to build a lasting company. Something he learned from Hewlett Packard was that lasting companies know how to reinvent themselves. To remain successful a company must be flexible and creative, not afraid of change.

When coming back to Apple he had a massive task ahead of him. Rebuild a failing behemoth. The chance of success was extremely narrow. Looking at all the products the different teams were building he saw their problem. There was no focus. He simplified the product line.

The way a company is organized is important. Both in structure and in the physical layout. At Pixar he created one large space with all the offices joining onto it. The space helped create community and collaboration. People from different departments who would otherwise never meet, bumped into another in the shared space. As Steve Jobs said, “The best innovation is sometimes the company, the way you organize a company

Steve understood that for an innovative company to succeed it had to communicate, connect, with customers. The iPod was successful because it could communicate an understandable message, “A thousand songs in your pocket.” Steve spent hours labouring over the message behind the product. Steve argued, “You can’t win on innovation unless you have a way to communicate to customers.”

Steve also understood that great design was essential for great marketing. From his early mentor Mike Markkula Jobs was taught that “people do judge a book by its cover. ” Apple created the packaging of their products to signal that there was a beautiful gem inside. By creating a ritual of unpacking the product feels special.

But for Steve Jobs, good design didn’t end with the packaging. Right from his earliest days with Apple he was incessant about the design of their products. Even the way the circuit boards were designed. They were building excellent products that were well crafted from the inside out. The engineering and design needed to be excellent. This contributed to Apple’s culture of excellence.

There was another reason that Steve laboured over product design as well. He understood something the majority of technology companies miss. Human nature. As Jony Ive said, “Why do we assume that simple is good? Because with physical products we have to feel we can dominate them. As you bring order to complexity, you find a way to make the product defer to you.” As we simplify objects, especially technology, they become less intimidating to users and perceived to be more accessible, more conquerable.

Steve understood the basic principle that for his company to create the best, to be the best, it must be filled with the best. He was passionate about only hiring the best and brightest, “A players”. He believed that the best and brightest get annoyed working with anything less, so they in turn hire the best and the brightest. There is a natural quality control that takes place. However, B and C players have a feeling of inadequacy and therefore hire C and D employees to ensure that they look better. So Steve filled Apple with A players and frequently challenged his employees to ensure they remained A players.

Finally, Steve understood that for a company to be successful, its leaders must see the big picture, but be passionate about the details and products. He accounted this as his failure when hiring, John Sculley, as Apple’s CEO. John got the big picture but didn’t care much about the products the company was creating. However, Steve Jobs praised members of his team that did. “He get’s the big picture as well as the most infintesimal details about each product. And he understands that Apple is a product company.” Steve Jobs said about Jony Ive.

Steve was a brilliant man, and we will miss him. But fortunately because of books like Steve Jobs, by walter Isaacson, many of his thoughts live on.

If you are interested, an article I wrote about Steve Jobs’ view of Passion and Business is here. It continues to be the most read article on this blog.

Also, here are some great Steve Jobs quotes.

Life lesson #1: What do you need to do to succeed in business? You need to be inspired.

I wrote this article a couple years ago and thought it was worth posting as my first post on this blog because I still find this very relevant to my success in business.

Not that long ago I learnt an important lesson: know what inspires you. With regards to business there are a lot of books on the topic of motivation, but not too many on inspiration. When starting a clothing company a few years back I began reading lots and lots on business. I read books on leadership, economics, small business, marketing etc. Being the keen student I was I began to follow the rules to success religiously (as they were outlined by the numerous books on the topic). Obediently I developed product workflow, marketed my products, studied my customer, found a niche, and developed the brand. As the sole designer for the clothing company its identity and ‘edge’ was hinged on my design ideas. And then one day, out of the blue, the ideas stopped. I worked harder to come up with new ideas, but it felt like I was squeezing water from a stone. WHAT HAPPENED? I had done everything right hadn’t I?

In short I had lost my inspiration. As I was personally funding the company I began to shop less, focused on redirecting any income I had back into building the company. Shopping less meant I wasn’t buying as many clothes for myself. For me buying clothes inspired me, I would look for a shirt and then start thinking, ‘Oh if only they made it this way, or with a different design’. Ironically the thing that I had stopped doing was the very life blood of the ideas that spurned on the company.

I began to refocus the direction for the company as my ideas for new designs had all but disappeared. During this process I took some time off and started shopping more. Then a lightbulb came on. Ideas began flowing quickly again and I realized what had happened. Fast forward to the present, I have since moved on from the clothing industry, and am working on a few internet related businesses. I have come to the conclusion that for myself inspiration is as important for every business endeavor I work on as is the motivation that keeps driving them. For this reason I am somewhat surprised that there isn’t more written on this topic.

In summary I have learnt that for me to remain successful and creative I must find what inspires me. And then using this knowledge, create situations where I am inspired. For some that might mean taking more time to walk in a forest and for others it could mean simply reading a book or a magazine, whatever it is, find what inspires you and make a point of doing it, it may mean the difference between success and burnout.