I’ve just finished reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs (Santa – take note – I have read it). It’s an authorised biography but neither Jobs nor anyone else had any editorial control, or even any foresight.
Jobs predicted he’d read it a few years after it came out. That’s not going to happen.
Let’s get something out of the way here – this is no hagiography. Jobs as a person comes out of it looking pretty bad. It’s warts-and-all and the warts are many.
He had no filter between his brain and his mouth and he knew it and he didn’t care.
But – he did amazing things and there will be few of us who do not own at least one of his products or have seen one of his movies. (I’ve seen them all.)
So, what can we learn from this book that we can apply to our businesses?
Be Lacking in Screws
This is all about product excellence. I think it applies to service as well.
Jobs was driven to make the best consumer products it was possible to make. That’s it. That’s the mission statement. He saw the early hobbyist computers as clunky, unintegrated (some didn’t even come with a box around them – they were bare exposed circuit boards, and no power supply!). Essentially unusable to anyone bar the expert hobbyist.
Later he saw PCs as bland, shoddy, cobbled together contraptions containing barely compatible components and clunky software. The user experience was poor.
It was the same with portable music players and phones…techie products made for techies where their lack of usability was almost a point of pride to their engineers.
Jobs went to unbelievable lengths to make his products feature rich, very beautiful and incredibly simple to use. And he managed it. He gave complete solutions. With no screws. You cannot get inside an Apple product and you don’t need to.
I believe Jobs was truly not interested in money. He believed that to focus on making money was the end for an organisation. It was better to focus on delivering value excellently, i.e. in Apple’s case, through truly excellent products. And this makes sense to me because making stuff is an input that we can control. Making money is an output that is only indirectly controlled.
He did no market research because he wasn’t into incremental product development. He was into blowing the competition out of the water. He quotes Henry Ford – “if I’d asked my customers what they wanted they’d have said ‘a faster horse’.”
This allowed him to demand premium prices. Despite having only 7% of the computer market by unit sales, Apple in 2010 was pulling in 35% of the entire segment’s operating profit.
This is about focusing on as few projects as possible.
It was usual for the entire organisation, one of the biggest companies on earth, to be working on no more than three products at any one time.
If you are going to make the very best products you can, you can’t be developing fifty of them. Know your limits.
Be More Than Just A Protest Singer
This is about innovation.
Jobs loved Bob Dylan and he said that Dylan couldn’t sing protest songs all his life – he had to move on and he did. Innovation ran through everything Jobs did – from the Gorilla Glass screen on the iPhone to the design of the Apple Stores. From business model innovation (iTunes Store) to reinventing animated movies.
And even then, innovation sometimes only gets you so far, as the plethora of smart phones out now will show.
But not innovating is not an option.
Be As One
This is about organisational structure.
Jobs felt Apple could get stuff done like no other company because there was no silo mentality in the organisation. He looked at Sony who had made the WalkMan and they had all the skills to make the iPod/iTunes/iTunesStore integrated product suite that has reshaped (and saved) the music industry, but they couldn’t get it together because the music and technology divisions had conflicting priorities and would not talk to each other.
Let’s remember what the word division actually means – the state of being divided.
Apple has only one P&L which is amazing for an organisation of its size. And everyone involved in product development feels an allegiance to the product, not a division.
There’s more, much more, but these are four of the major pillars upon which Apple was built. There are lessons here for a lot of us.
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Thanks a lot. Mark