14 leadership lessons we can all learn from Jobs (Part One)

I’d like share with you Walter Isaacson’s article on Steve Jobs, from Harvard Business Review September’s issue. Mr. Isaacson who’s also the author of Job’s and Einstein’s biographies, lists 14 lessons  about leadership style. I’d like to share my thoughts on some of them with you.

“Apple’s founder belongs to the Pantheon of great inventors, along with Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Walt Disney […]. Steve Jobs had his own manners from which everybody can get inspired.” — Walter Isaacson.
This article will be divided in two parts and will be followed by the list of iOS features I predicted myself. Now to the first 7 lessons. Well, let’s jump right into it.


1. Focus on one thing at a time.

1997. Jobs returns to Apple and cuts all lines of products down to 2: desktops and laptop machines. Only two targets are to consider: professionals and consumers. As depicted in the article, Steve Jobs had it in him. “What are the 10 next products you’d like to work on?” he asked, before striking through the last 7. “The very notion of focalisation rooted from deep inside Job’s personality, sharpened by the practice of Zen”. He’d filtered just about anything that he perceived as interference between him and his priorities, Isaacson adds.

To me, one can’t reach this kind of sharp ability throughout meditation. But yet, for I have practiced myself, it did help me dealing with stress, pressure and project management in general. I believe it is something one can lean on. However, what this part of the article regards is that “deciding of what to not do is as important as deciding of what to do”. Jobs could do that without a blink and would rather strike through anything before he reaches his design and business goals.


2. Simplify as much as you can.

Recipients can read my favorite quote in my signature:

“Simplification is the best of all sophistication”. — DeVinci

Well, I don’t put the picture there though.

In his quest for simplicity, Jobs went from designing video games with only 2 line instructions. The article depicts how he had redesigned -let alone revolutionized some products, sometimes cutting costs by more than 80%. “[He] was going for the kind of simplicity resulting only from overcoming complexity instead of ignoring it”.

Not too long ago, I read about simplicity in UX. To what extent should it was it a progress in the profession. A little experience with UX renders this question a no-brainer. Indeed, User Experience Design is about simplification and reducing the cognitive load. But there is a catch. Over simplifying UIs might just require more effort from the user. I.e. your front door’s design can be simplified by removing its handle, can’t it be? You’ll still know it’s a door but your guests might just stand still in front of it, thinking it’s rather an abnormally thick window. Eventually, they’d ask themselves how to actually get in, which equals a significant increase in cognitive load. Beyond aesthetics and functionality, the handle speaks for the whole product: It’s a universal code that anybody, even some animals understands. Subtle huh? But there’s more to it. If your customer wonders how they should use your product it doesn’t necessarily means your product is difficult to use.

In a few words: UX is about simplification to the most relevance. Simplifying any further could do the opposite and bring complexity in your product/service design.


3. Be in charge straight from the beginning to the end. 

Watch Cupertino’s latest commercials in which they -finally- throw the real thing out to the fan war:

“This is an iPhone. Unlike most smartphones, we design the hardware part, and the software part.”

Unlike most competitors, Job had a hand on “the whole thing” says Walter Isaacson. The satisfaction provided to end users was envisioned with every step from design to in-store purchase. Resulting in the kind of reward you’d want for giving up weekends and nights for iterations. The author describes the CEO’s personality as “dominant but perfectionist. Preoccupied with perfection as much as aesthetics in products.”. That vision reflects on how hermetic both Apple’s software and hardware are -were?-. But yet, it gave birth to promiscuous User Experience designs.

Opposing Apple, Microsoft knew growth by authorizing manufacturers to use Redmond’s software . Competitors were filling households with cheap heterogeneous systems, polluted with 3rd parties products and rather ugly embedded software. Despite struggling with short terms revenue, Jobs kept it rolling. Apple’s promising UX  was paradoxically brought to you by the hands of a control maniac. Only one person, one company, one direction, which in my world is a strength.

Long story short: designing the continuum software-hardware can only help achieving greater designs. Not all structures can afford such strategy. Developing your own solution from A to Z requires certain conditions such as size, expertise, budget. But indeed, that is definitely a point to remember. whether you board onto a project or initiate it.


4. When stuck behind, cut to the front.

This part of the article refers to the crucial moment Apple stepped into music industry. To start with, Steve Jobs wanted the iMac to be some sort of a “media manager” or what we’d today refer to as a “media center”. It started quite well with videos (iDvd, Quicktime) and (i)photos but the answer brought to the music question mark was a whole new thing.

Apple was dragging its feet behind the industry’s big players, lacking a realistic offer for true music lovers. It could have adjusted to the level of its competitors, but no. Jobs unveiled the next corner stone in the firm’s history: iTunes, the iTunes Store and the iPods.

Pieces of both hardware & software that lets you sort, manage, collect and pack thousands of thousands of music in your pocket.

That’s like Godspeed. Can’t say this any better.


5. Free yourself (and your business) from “focus groups”.

My favorite part of the internet are comments on any topic. You get a clear idea on why you must hear your testers out with cautious.

“If I had asked people what they wanted, They would have asid faster horses.” –Henry Ford

This is another part where the CEO’s personality played a major role. He genuinely knew that what customers want can differ vastly from what they need. Listening to them could potentially sink a whole company so he chose to minimize its impact on the firm’s strategy.

Not only that Steve’s intuition was finely tuned but his about it was only his to use in design process and business. Although, I can’t come to think that anyone can deal do business based on intuition. Or one may try and take their chance. This is where I can only quote Walter Isaacson: While most aficionados would focus on his character, “to [Isaacson], what is essential about Steve is merely that his personality was indistinguishable from his way to do business.”


6. Think product before thinking profits.

High-end and pricey products were always the Apple does business. But it didn’t always fit the market expectations, costing Steve his position. The new leader who steered the firm towards rapid growth, hardly reached the objectives and soon Apple started declining. Jobs blamed his own self for it and learnt his lessons well. He came up with -in proportion- affordable yet high-margin lines of products. “Of course earning profits was what let us create great products. But the motivation was products, not profits. Everything [other than products] was secondary.”

From my experience within startups, I can talk about the diversity in kinds of firms. in particular the ones where stakeholders do have a clear influence on a product’s road-map. It is quite never a Apple/Facebook/Google-like structure where road-maps aren’t quite affected for small structure. But at least, while long-term planning, you get to confrot your users a lot and the data collected should help steer the boat while getting stakeholders onboard.


7. Distort reality.

“Steve Jobs’ reality distortion field”. That’s the way I first heard about it. Sounds Vador-shit scary.

To sum this part up, Steve’s managerial style wasn’t only fulmination, let alone the “euphemism for lies and harassment”. As his employee, if one could simply not meet a given deadline, they were suddenly all convinced they could make it once the CEO steps in the room. People tacitly agreed to be tasked with the impossible when Steve was around. As for Xerox’s $300 mouse, cutting costs down to $15 by redesigning it. “We did the impossible, because we didn’t know it was impossible” dixit Debi Coleman, an Apple employee who earned an award for resisting Jobs the most, Isaacson reports.

Xerox’s first mouse on the right. I certainly do not know what’s the piano-like OVNI on the left for.

I believe that’s the kind of skill that reflects your state of mind, your approach about life in general. For some, the glass is always empty whereas for others, the sky is always blue. Easy to speak it out, have cheap talks about it but when it comes down to persuasions, in the corporate frame, that’s a complete different story.

understanding. For the record, some million processor chips in millions of units have the engineers’ signature on them. Dixit Walter Isaacson Check it out.

Aim for perfection, wherever you end will be a valuable reward. Convince your people, they CAN do it.


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