In his lifetime, Steve Jobs accomplished more than most people ever complete. While I never personally knew him, I've learned from him over the years through many people who were close to him, as well as consumed countless movies, shows, articles, and books that feature him.
With his experience, knowledge, and innovation, he left a legacy that is serving as a benchmark for many entrepreneurs, myself included. Here are some of the profound lessons from the Apple founder about business that I've learned you can apply to your life:
1. Don't be a right- or left-brain thinker, because it's better to be both. A lot of people in the tech world think a technology-based business only runs from left-brain (analytical and critical) thinking. Jobs loved art and music, often calling on his right brain to address problems. It was this connection to the humanities that added the beauty to his Apple products and created that emotional connection. It's better to put both sides of the brain to work in business, because it addresses the technical and the human components. Business needs both.
2. Simplify rather than complicate. In citing his love for the simplicity often found in the architectural design of Joseph Eichler, Jobs said, "It takes a lot of hard work to make something simple, to truly understand the underlying challenges and come up with elegant solutions." This philosophy is what led to Apple's iconic designs and proved to me that a target market isn't necessarily looking for anything complicated in their product or service preferences. The easier something is to use, the more people will want to use it. When I stopped overthinking my business and went with the basic needs my audience was saying they needed filled, success came faster.
3. Think products, not profits. Jobs was about making products that were beautiful, engaging, and helpful. By focusing on those objectives, he knew it would satisfy customers. Once they were happy, then the profits would follow. Going into my business, this was a significant change for me to make to my mindset. Once I did, the products I offered were more readily received and the money followed.
4. Nothing is impossible. There will always be critics, but Jobs never let these naysayers impact what he was doing. I learned that imagination, inspiration, and the drive to overcome a challenge or barrier work, and because Steve Jobs proved it time and again, I can go forward in quest of the same desires. Under his watch, software was produced in less than four days; products were designed and marketed that no one had ever seen before, with materials not previously produced. All the while, Jobs was unfazed by the challenges and criticism he faced.
5. Go with A-level talent only. Although it sounds like the nice thing to do to help those workers who are at B or C status, Jobs thought it was a waste of time when he could just pick out those with their A game. Jobs's unapologetic style makes sense when looking at business for business's sake. In my own company, I want to get things done, get to market, and, obviously, succeed. I can't do that if I'm spending time on people who need a lot of it to potentially get them to A-level. Instead, by just hiring A-level talent, I can save resources and beat the competition. As Jobs explained, "By expecting them to do great things, you can get them to do great things." Plus, I've found that surrounding myself with smart (and even smarter) people just pushes everyone and everything closer to greatness.
6. Aim for perfection. Jobs said, "Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren't used to an environment where excellence is expected." Guy Kawasaki noted that, when he worked with Jobs, he experienced Jobs's off-the-cuff comments that might not be politically (or HR) correct, but they made an impression. Kawasaki acknowledged that it was that candid delivery that made him want to work harder. Like his aversion for mediocre people, Jobs knew that success in business only comes from continually striving for that perfect state in what you do and expect others to deliver. There's a level of intensity that Jobs had that drove him continually to reach a certain standard and then raise it. In a world where I see so many people do as little as possible rather than work toward making something the best it can be, having Jobs as a model has helped me work beyond that prevailing mindset and aim for perfection in all I do. My target audience wants the best product or service possible, but they won't get that if I don't put everything into it.
7. Acknowledge mistakes. Just because Jobs was a perfectionist and often difficult to work with didn't mean that he was not willing to acknowledge when he made a mistake. His errors in judgment also have been pretty large, but he noted they were necessary for learning. As he said, "I'm the only person I know that's a lost a quarter of a billion dollars in one year.... It's very character-building."
I can't imagine making a financial mistake that massive, but seeing that he took responsibility for it means I can do the same with mistakes I make. Others admired him for taking on that burden, especially since human nature has most of us instantly blaming someone, or something, else for screwups. He taught people to be better through his actions. Owning my mistakes has taught me a lot, helped me grow, and deepened my respect among my staff.
8. Don't fit in. He said, "Here's to the crazy ones--the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently ... the ones that change things." Jobs taught me that he didn't have a market leadership position because he was trying to emulate everyone else. In product and personality, Jobs never fit in.
He was unlike other CEOs not only because of his turtlenecks and jeans; Jobs also was considered rebellious and edgy. None of it fit the typical CEO, but that's what I've learned is essential for being disruptive in the marketplace. If I tried to be like everyone else, I'd never pull away from the crowd and into the top spot in my market. Sometimes not fitting in is what gets a person noticed, and I like that. I think Jobs did too.
9. Don't hesitate. Second-guessing himself was not in his mindset. He realized that in the moment he waited to make sure, someone else could beat him to market. While he wanted things to be perfect, there were times when it didn't pay to wait any longer. Jobs took the necessary risks, and his product portfolio speaks to why it pays to jump from the plane (with parachute firmly attached). His ability to say what he wanted to say and do what he wanted to do has been a model for my own leadership style. While I think everything through, I try not to overthink it.
10. Go with your gut. Jobs asked, "Did Alexander Graham Bell do any market research before he invented the telephone?" Now, I'm still one to advocate doing research, but he was right on target when he realized that instinct should play a major role in running a business.
His thought process was, if he liked something, others would too. Some might say that is cocky, but in my own business, my Millennial status is useful in gauging what I think others would want. There is a good chance that others like me in that same demographic have similar problems that need solving. I have, in my career, navigated by gut on more than one occasion. Steve Jobs, though, had a deep and abiding belief in his own tastes and believed with utter certainty that if he liked something, the public would as well. He was almost invariably right.
11. Build relationships in person. Despite being in technology, Jobs believed that face-to-face meetings were better for business, including those with potential customers and employees. He was interested in hearing directly from people rather than reading their words on a screen, and he understood that many of the intangibles about being together in person could not be emulated by technology platforms.
Having informal talks during a walk or sitting down over lunch rather than strictly messaging others minimizes miscommunication, reducing frustration and the time necessary to repair the damage.
12. Never be satisfied. There's a story that the Apple team worked tirelessly on the iPhone for nearly a year and were almost to the final product when Jobs came into work and told them that he did not like it and wanted them to start over. Jobs continually introduced new products as well as product upgrades. It's true that you are only as good as your last product, so to be better you can't stop innovating. Right to the end, Jobs was still going, thinking, and doing, even when faced with cancer. I work toward gaining that spirit in approaching everything in my life and business. I know it can always get better, and I'm responsible for making that happen.
Jobs was a visionary, a complicated and brilliant man, and a business leader who revolutionized how we work, play, and interact. He left so much for the rest of us to use to develop, grow, and thrive.