“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me.” ― Steve Jobs
In August 2012, renowned writer Walter Isaacson penned a piece on Steve Jobs titled “The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs” for Harvard Business Review. In that, he wrote that by the time Jobs died in October 2011 (he was only 56), he had built Apple into the world’s most prized company and transformed as many as seven industries, namely, personal computing, animated movies, phones, music, tablet computing, retail stores and digital publishing! Isaacson, who wrote Jobs’s biography in 2011, had no hesitation thus to infer that the latter belonged to the league of some of the US’s greatest innovators like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Walt Disney. “None of these men was a saint, but long after their personalities are forgotten, history will remember how they applied imagination to technology and business,” Isaacson wrote in his piece.
If you have been assigned the task of making a list of some of the famous leaders the modern world has seen, you just cannot ignore the name of Jobs. The man is an icon for a generation of people who aspire to make it big in the tech world. But how did Jobs become such a path-breaking leader? What is that he did differently? There is no doubt that the man was thinking about things differently and was courageous enough to lay out the path for others to follow. Born to Abdulfattah Jandali, a Syrian immigrant, and Joanne Schieble in San Francisco in February 1955 and adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs (née Hagopian), Jobs was instrumental behind setting up a company that had the ability to renew itself time and again instead of creating just an awesome product. It would be wrong to equate Jobs’s success with either iPhone or Mcintosh but Apple which went on to become one of the most innovative companies of the current era. Jobs not only co-founded Apple in his parents’ garage in 1976. He saw it coming full circle by getting ousted in 1985 and returning to rescue it from near bankruptcy in 1997. Jobs died at his home in Palo Alto, California, on October 5, 2011, due to pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor.
The man has left behind a tremendously rich legacy and here are five lessons of leadership that we can learn from Jobs, a born visionary who is also a genius leader.
Never get distracted from your priorities:
No matter what the situation is, it is important for a leader to not lose sight of things he/she is supposed to do — as a matter of passion or responsibility. Jobs’s own roller-coaster ride is an example. In 1997, when the co-founder of Apple returned to the company, 12 years after his removal, it was in a mess. Jobs saw that the company was producing a lot of not-so-great products and he was disappointed with it. To save Apple, which was on the verge of bankruptcy, Jobs focused on the creation of four great products instead. He famously said once that deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do and that is what he did after returning to Apple. As a leading entrepreneur, you also need to keep in mind the same point. Prioritizing your activities helps you in addressing the key tasks first and when you are putting your sharp focus on the more important things, you also accomplish the other work of eliminating the elements that distract you. Another aspect of the prioritization is that you never say no to your passion irrespective of your worse experiences.
Say bye comfort zone:
It is so very easy to operate in your comfort zone, but your limits are never stretched by that. If you remain content within your comfort zone, it is unlikely that you will be able to raise the quality bar.
And Jobs was special on this count. Both hated and loved for his knack to push people to the edge of their own capabilities, Jobs never stopped short of doing it to bring the best out of them. Here is a small story. Jobs once wanted Mac engineer Larry Kenyon to enable the working system to boot up faster. The initial answer to this “it’s impossible”. Jobs was not in a mood to say no. He tried another way. He scratched an equation showing if five million people used Mac every day and the boot up takes 10 seconds longer; it means 100 lifetimes over a year. Jobs then asked Kenyon a question with a humanitarian link. He asked: “If it would save someone’s life, could you shave 10 seconds off?” To this, the latter said: “Probably I could.” The ‘impossibility’ factor vanished in thin air after this and the conversation saw Kenyon able to cut the boot-up time of Mac by 28 seconds!
Here is the lesson for an aspiring leader. Just ask the right questions and never shy away from asking the difficult ones. The road to perfectionism never entertains the word ‘no’ and that is something we can learn from Jobs, who challenged all barriers outside the comfort zone.
Keep things simple, it helps:
Jobs again said famously once: “It takes a lot of hard work to make something simple, to truly understand the underlying challenges and come up with elegant solutions.”
That the man was convinced in simplicity as a key formula for success was also evident when Apple’s maiden marketing brochure announced: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. That the leader practiced what he preached gets even clear when one compares Apple with any other company. The value of simplicity also came to Jobs with experience. In the mid-1970s, Jobs, who was a college dropout because he did not want to waste his parents’ money on education that seemed meaningless to him, was hired by the now defunct Atari Inc. and it was there where a young Jobs learned the significance of simplification. The instruction of Atari’s first Star Trek game was: Insert a quarter and avoid Klingons and even an intelligent college drop-out could make it out — the meaning as well as the underlying philosophy. That Jobs loved simplicity also became evident when the iPod without an on/off button came. His hate for mobile phones that were not user-friendly also propelled the thinking behind the invention of the iPhone.
Jobs’s emphasis on simplicity had an orientation and it was about the user’s convenience. To those who want to learn from Jobs the significance of simplicity, here lies the crux of the matter. Make things simple so that your customers find it easy and you are more reliable.
Don’t only run after money:
Jobs was worth $100 million by the time he turned 25. He could have retired then and there. But the thinker in him said: “Money is wonderful because it enables you to do things, it enables you to invest in ideas that don’t have a short term payback…but it’s not the most important thing. The most important thing [is] the company, the people and the products [they] were making.” This extraordinary thought gave the world Jobs and some of his great products. His motivation and not money that mattered the most.
In a 1996 PBS documentary, Jobs said he was worth over $1 million when he was 23, and over $10 million at the age of 24 and as said earlier, over $100 million by the time he turned 25. But he said that it was not important and reiterated that he did not co-found Apple for money.
Passion drove the man and money followed him. Even at a time in life when he was losing money, Jobs harbored the same mentality. In the early 1980s, when Apple’s stock suffered after a volatile year and it cost Jobs $250 million, he said he was least bothered. In February 1985, Jobs told Playboy in an interview: “I’m not going to let it ruin my life.”
“Isn’t it kind of funny? You know, my main reaction to this money thing is that it’s humorous, all the attention to it, because it’s hardly the most insightful or valuable thing that’s happened to me in the past 10 years,” he added.
Isaacson also came to know about this trait of Jobs. The latter avoided prioritizing wealth, according to the former, who did over 40 interviews with Jobs for the biography. Despite turning a billionaire, Jobs never encouraged his family to lead a flashy lifestyle.
This is a very crucial lesson that Jobs offers to those who idolize him. Money is definitely an important part of life but not something bigger than it. It is always wise to pay attention to the passion you have so that you automatically produce great products that will strike such a deal with your customers that money will take care of itself. This is a remarkable way of looking at things and we thank Jobs for making us understand it.
‘Staying hungry, staying foolish’:
The above quote was one of Jobs’s favorite ones. And it is quite a substantial one. One must stay eternally curious to learn more and the more one learns, he/she becomes humble realizing that there is no end to the process. This cycle brings the best out of people and by asking them to remain hungry and foolish, Jobs only encouraged everybody else to carry on with the efforts and not get content and complacent as that only brings stagnation. Being a man who had a sea of experience in his short life, Jobs sensed the pulse of the journey better than many others and gave good guidance through the prescription to stay hungry and foolish. Jobs was a real rebel who did not adjust himself to the status quo but challenged it. He saw things differently and that is how aspiring entrepreneurs need to see things and try to show the way forward.