Lessons from Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs,” the biography by Walter Isaacson, is a remarkable treatise on leadership. Quirky and sometimes cruel, Jobs wasn’t much of a manager but he was a tremendous leader. Anyone who runs a business can learn from him. Here’s what I learned:

First, Jobs was both a big picture person and a details guy. Usually, we think of someone being in either one camp or the other but Jobs was both. He envisioned the digital age yet he also was passionate about using the right screws inside each Apple product. As business leaders, we need to be able to envision the future of the industry while tending to the smallest details of operation and delivery.

Second, Jobs was both an engineer and a designer. By marrying technical with aesthetics, Jobs created unsurpassed products. A business owner who understands the inner workings of his products enough to anticipate the customer experience has a better chance of succeeding than someone whose understanding is less complete.

Third, Jobs’ passion for his products was unsurpassed. He cared so much about his products that he designed their interior for order and beauty even though he knew almost no one would ever see inside an iPad or iPod. Employees would certainly come to understand your concern for quality if they saw you perfecting systems they knew customers would never see.

Fourth, Jobs didn’t wait for customers to tell him what they want; he gave them something better than what they thought they wanted. “Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do,” Isaacson quotes Jobs. “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them…our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.”  Leaders who are one step ahead are generally more successful than followers who are one step behind.

Fifth, Jobs wasn’t necessarily a great inventor but he had a masterful ability to pull things together in new ways, like combining graphical interface with the traditional computer screen, or putting digital music files on a hand-held device. Coming up with something new rarely means inventing something from scratch, but more often it means packaging existing components in fresh ways.

And sixth, the guy didn’t slow down. From the first Apple and Mac computers to the iPhone and Cloud computing, Jobs was always coming up with something. In order to establish a legacy even a fraction of the size of Jobs’, it takes a rare enduring passion. Isaacson’s book is about a guy who was born with it; I’m hoping it’s something that can be learned and developed.

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