The Ten Life Lessons From Steve Jobs we Should Never Forget
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Article by, Eric Jackson Forbes
After Steve Jobs died, his friend Larry Ellison was asked by Kara Swisher what were the key things that we – regular people – could learn from him.
Ellison’s answer went something like: “There will never be another Steve Jobs. We can’t be the special person he was. We are who we are and just have to appreciate how great he was.”
I agree that it would be silly to start a graduate degree program in “Being Steve Jobs.” We would look at the graduates from the program and shake our heads, saying “he/she reminds me nothing of Steve.”
We will never have the same charisma as he did when we give a speech – even if we wore black turtlenecks, blue jeans, and copied his cadence and tone of his speech. (And, to be fair, on the flip-side, we’ll probably never chew people out the way he did.)
But, with all that said, it struck me the other day out of the blue that Steve’s been gone from this Earth for over a year now. He’s of course not forgotten. We refer to him all the time whenever we discuss Apple(AAPL) – mostly to complain that the current team isn’t doing things (or doing things) that Steve would (or wouldn’t).
I remember how inspired by him I was when he was alive and how sad I was when he died – even though I’d never met him. I remember, at the time of his death, saying to myself I needed to remember all the things that made him – in my eyes, anyway – a great person/executive/leader and try to incorporate those lessons in my life.
I don’t want to be Steve Jobs, but I want to learn from Steve Jobs.
As I reflected about this the other day, I tried to recall off the top of my head the biggest life lessons I should try to always carry with me in life. Of course, we all get busy and it’s difficult to always be conscious of key things we need to hold on to.
I sat down and wrote this list of Steve’s life lessons to remind me:
1. He loved what he did – his company, the people who worked there, their products – and couldn’t have done anything else.
Sure he became a billionaire over time when he brought Apple back from the brink of bankruptcy, but I don’t think Steve could have done anything else. He wouldn’t have done anything else. Apple was his calling — even after he got fired from the company. We all have bad jobs at one point or another in our lives. But the big question you have to ask yourself is: am I in the right job for me? Have I found the right company? Is this the right set of people I want to be with? Will this lead to fulfilling work and thus a fulfilling career? If yes, great. If no, change things quick. Life doesn’t go on forever (as we also saw from Steve). Get on your right path now.
2. Don’t tolerate bozos around you.
Throughout his life, Steve had a great “bozo” detector. He did a super job of not letting bozos proliferate at his companies. He weeded them out if they were there – until they weren’t. You’ll never be perfect at it and neither was Steve but the key thing is that bozos sap energy from you and the best people in the company working with you. Bozos make bozo decisions. Bozos hire worse bozos beneath them. Stamp them out. Don’t let them take root around you.
3. You can’t do it all yourself.
Between Steve Jobs’ first stint at Apple and his last, he became a much better manager of people. He still could tear the hide off someone if he didn’t think they did their job, but his outbursts were far fewer and far less hostile later in life than before. He learned you can’t do it all yourself in your career — at least not if you want to see your work succeed on a massive scale. You need people. They must be talented. They must be inspired. They must be held accountable. They must be given the opportunity to succeed and fail on their own and not just be a puppet for your will. In short, you have to learn to be a great leader and manager of people if you want to see your great ideas and hard work truly have a huge impact on the world.
4. If you want to sell an idea, product or service, put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
If you had to pick one thing that was special about Steve and Apple compared to all the companies that came before it, you’d have to say it was that Apple – more than any other company of our time – was always the best at dreaming up a new product that we never could have imagined beforehand but seemed so natural to us the first time we held it. That’s empathy. That’s seeing the world not as it is but as it should be. It’s started from that first touch the user has with a product and says “ahh” to the beginning and building what is needed which may look nothing like what exists today.
5. Be the best at your niche in the world but don’t be so exclusive that a majority of the world can’t experience it.
One of the things Steve learned with his first stint at Apple and then at NeXT was that he produced some amazing technology – that cost way too much money for most people to buy. The technology was beautiful. The Mac faithful loved it. And yet Microsoft (MSFT) continued to dominate the bulk of the market because it cost less and was good enough. Jobs really took that to heart when he came back to Apple. Not only were the iPod, iPhone, and iPad completely new and exciting — they were aggressively priced. People expected the new iPad to cost over $1,000. When it was close to half of that, people were shocked. Competitors could only win share back by making no profit on their tablets in response. Apple still found a way to make money at their lower price. You can have the best ideas in the world for whatever your niche is but it won’t make a think unless you find a way to get it in front of people. With the Internet today, you can be a hat maker in Timbuktu but – if you’ve got something good – people will be able to find you. Just make sure your stuff isn’t wildly over-priced when they do find you.
6. You don’t beat the competition at their game. You redefine the game.
How did Apple go from being 3 months away from being shut down to introducing the iPhone 10 years later? They didn’t play the computer game the way everyone said they needed to play it. Napster was created and made music essentially free. Apple created the next “Walkman” in the iPod which forced users to pay for music. Dell was the dominant PC player during much of that time, selling bland looking computers with no middle man to keep costs down. Apple created a bunch of Apple stores. This was as radical as if Google decided today that they were going to build a bunch of Google stores. The leading smart phones before the iPhone all had physical keyboards like the BlackBerry, Palm Treo, Good technology, and the first versions of Google’s Android. Apple came up with something utterly different. So much so that most people referred to it in the first couple of years as the “Jesus Phone.” Don’t just beat the competition. Think different to create a new game.
7. Don’t mess around with your health.
I once was chatting with someone about the lessons Steve Jobs’ life could teach us. I ran through a list of business ideas. He stopped me in said: “you’re forgetting the most important lesson from his life: don’t mess around with your health, especially when doctors give you serious advice.” And he was right. It’s great to celebrate Steve’s life and learn from it now but, the fact is, he should still be here. And he probably would still be here if he had aggressively treated his cancer, like his doctors wanted, when they first found it. Instead, Steve messed around with a bunch of naturopathic solutions that weren’t effective. When he finally decided to take his doctors’ original advice, too much time had past to save him.
8. Never rest on your laurels.
Apple went from death’s door to the dominant player in mobile in about 10 years. And, once they reached the top, their competitors seemed to implode including Research In Motion (RIMM), Motorola, Sony and HTC. Most companies in that situation would have eased up. The CEOs and senior managers would have taken time out to pose for Fortune magazine covers and gone on about 8 different corporate boards each to further raise their profile and cash in on their success. When the world is worshipping you, you take your foot off the gas. You figure that you can coast for a little bit — especially after 10 tough years of rebuilding the company. Apple did none of that. And even though they didn’t, they’re still in a hug dog fight right now against Samsung and Google (GOOG). Just imagine if they had decided to mail it in for a few years after shipping the iPhone.
9. It’s not just the package but also the presentation.
Steve Jobs was almost mythical the way could do a presentation. There really wasn’t any equal of his in the last 50 years I can think of. Apple critics didn’t like the way this aspect of Apple and Jobs got so much attention. They would constantly refer to their products they liked instead (Microsoft or Google) and list off all the product or performance features which were better in their views to Apple’s. They claimed that Jobs had cast some kind of shaman-like spell over others and if you peeled that away, you’d see that their product was better. Rather than hate the showman-like aspect of Jobs though, better to appreciate it. It’s about the steak and the sizzle. You’ve got to have a good steak – no matter what business you’re in. However, it’s only human nature to be attracted by the sizzle as well. Jobs wasn’t the first business person to figure this out. A guy named P.T. Barnum was pretty good at it too. Instead of complaining that it’s not fair others don’t give you as much respect because your company has no sizzle, why not try to create some yourself in addition to your solid products?
10. Are you doing work you’d be proud to show your friends and family?
At the end of the day, all big companies allow their employees to hide from responsibility and accountability. That’s why so many big companies fail — their leaders get disconnected from what’s happening on the ground in their businesses and no one is course-correcting where the problems are. Apple has a great way of pushing down responsibility to a few people in each area and then holding them responsible for those areas. That doesn’t mean it always go perfectly as the Maps episode last year shows. However, notice that there was a consequence for that failure with the departure of certain people. The bottom line rule of thumb here is: are you doing work on something you’d be proud to show your most discerning friends and family? Across product groups and job functions, the great thing about Apple is that they were able to achieve that high bar across so many people in their large company.