Four Things I Learned from Steve Jobs
Wow….My wife and I had the chance to be at a wonderful restaurant with 8 great friends and business associates in Charleston, SC when the news of Steve Jobs death came across my phone.
Quickly, everyone at the table had their devices out to read the news. Probably 9 out of 10 devices at the table were Apple products or inspired by Apple products and the 313 patents and thousands of innovations Mr. Jobs inspired during his short life.
To quote the President, Steve jobs put the internet in our pocket – and with it the gateway to most human knowledge and connectivity in something that costs about the same as a pair of shoes or a good bottle of wine. I think of four things that stay with me and I think will stay with me for the rest of my life as loyal member of the Apple community:
1. Leading through vision as theater
The stories abound on the internet on Jobs as the Showman, the uncompromising visionary, and the ‘oversees every detail’ obsessive. There will go on to be volumes (or dare a say gigabytes) written about his leadership style – most great reviews, along with many not so positive about his style and personality. I think that anyone can be visionary – and that seeing what is around the corner in your industry, your interest area is a something that can be a function of listening to others, focus and time spent paying attention to stimulus – however translating the vision into your style in leading a team, inspiring others to join you – is not everyone’s first instinct.
Make and Dent the universe, make things insanely great, think different! — These were not just advertising or messaging lines. Steve believed. He moved millions of people to action – and he did it most importantly with flair and creativity. Style and Substance. This also can be learned – and I think for many its about courage to get up, put yourself out there, and be willing to bring emotion…. To create emotion with your audience. In our Maga ecosystem of federal agencies, technology and consulting organizations there is A LOT of room for a little Steve in our day.
2. Balancing the push/pull of user requirements
Whether planning a $100M fighter jet, the latest web technology or the next flavor of ‘YourTown’ Cupcakes – the endless loop of listening to customers and the marketplace vs. envisioning and educating the possibilities that people haven’t thought of yet seems to mire so many projects and organizations down. Steve believed he knew best – and so far history shows that he was right.
Many people would argue that the business models that sprung from these innovations were not always what consumers would prefer – but, if it was about elegance, ease of use, viral sharing and just plain ‘cool’ – Jobs (across the six industries he is credited with altering, creating or turning upside down) was spot on.
We need to provide leadership to our customers, and while we need to listen carefully too – we can’t let the listening stop us from making decisions and moving forward. I think that Jobs had a few anchor principles that didn’t change – find those for your industry, your project – and think a little bit more like Steve.
3. Being a Design Obsessive
The reason that people like, make that LOVE something and they aren’t really even sure why … that’s design. It is so funny to me that from the moment we had a mouse driven mac 1 in 1984 to the multi-color iMACs 15 years later that the basic recipe of very clean, intuitive and highly professional design has not been a focus for more companies. One really can’t look at the sea of PC laptops in their shades of gray, compared to the unibody machined aluminum of the macbook and not quickly conclude which product has more $ of design built in as a percentage of product cost.
So, we all know that design wins in so many products and services in our world, yet its the first thing to be short-changed, cut out, and eliminated from the equation of so many projects and organizations. Design is thought to be subjective, but design principles are black and white. Usability stems from design… Usability enables productivity and reduction in time to support and train… Supporting and training are big cost and revenue drivers no matter what industry you are in… and Design is at the heart of all of these.
Design is not frosting, it’s not nice to have – and the winning products in nearly every category teach the laggards this lesson time and time again. Maga Design was founded on this premise – and its the philosophy we spend all day every day sharing with our customers – it’s simply our calling – our purpose.
4. Build a tribe and make it easy to join
Every employee in our company gets a mac (whether they want it or not 🙂 and the reason is simple… they are our calling card. Yes, we have a segment of the workforce doing hard core design and the mac is the essential platform for Illustrator, video work , etc… but, for the rest of the staff where any machine could work – we strongly want the clients (most of which HAVE to use the standard PC) to see our team and our staff as using a different tool, representing the design community.
For me as a leader who has spent my career around the DoD and Federal government there is a little more to the story. NAVAIR (Naval Air Systems Command) is the place I spent my early career. In a Navy organization of over 38,000 people across 8 different cities around the country in the mid 90’s, nearly half of the desktop computers were Macs. I believe that NAVAIR was the most innovative, out of the box, community-oriented military command of its kind at that time.
The Mac was symbolic to many of us of the tool of choice that sparked creativity, productivity and in the very early pre-internet (pre-netscape at least) era it was the best way to help tie our organization together (thank you appletalk) in many ways, moving away from being able to have my Mac at work was a key reason for leaving the Navy when I did. So, it gives me great pleasure to be able to bring great design, help the Navy – AND have a small tribe of Macs march in and out of DoD offices each day. Steve built a community, he gave it the tools to stay connected and made it so easy for us to join.
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Scott Williams, Founder and CEO of Maga Design Group, is the Visualization Editor for Innovation Excellence. He combines 15 years of Navy technical and business experience with marketing and strategy acumen. He is a pioneer in the use of visual information mapping to solve complex business problems. A proponent of design, innovation, brand leadership, Scott applies his skill set to transformation in a variety of industries.
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