Thursday, October 6, 2011
Passing of Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs, who died yesterday, was an iconic American figure who will go down in history as one of the most successful entrepreneurs that the world has ever known. He built Apple into the largest market cap company in the world and made technology both beautiful and accessible. He also created an extraordinarily successful and imaginative computer animation company, Pixar.
There are many things that one can learn from the too short life of this remarkable individual. I will mention two.
Steve Jobs showed how an individual with a single-minded focus on creating revolutionary products can both create a great company and change the world. Steve Jobs was legendary for his attention to every detail of the products he created. He learned how to inspire and organize people to produce and market these products, but his primary focus was on the products themselves. Business schools tend to focus on training their students on how to manage. The theory is that if one knows how to manage, one can manage anything. The focus has not been on really understanding a field in full technical detail so that one can create great products – that too often is left to the engineers who play second fiddle to management in many companies. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Walt Disney, Thomas Edison and many others have shown how leaders deeply engaged in their products can create pre-eminent companies which transform human existence. Management skill obviously is needed as well, but management skill by itself is not sufficient for innovation.
Steve Jobs was also famous for not valuing market research. He felt that customers would not know if they wanted or would use his products until he had created them. Apple’s personal computers, laptops, iPods, iPhones, iPads, and iTunes were all embraced by customers with unbelievable enthusiasm once Steve Jobs introduced them to us. He created enormous demand for products that others had not even imagined. He changed world culture in the process.
Take for example my case. I had a cell phone and could not imagine the need for an iPhone even after it was introduced. I already had a very portable laptop and did not think that having the internet in my pocket would be much of incremental value. However, when my wife and children decided they were going to get iPhones, I got one too so as not to be the least technologically equipped member of the family. In fact, I found the iPhone to be culturally transformative. It enhanced the use of evidence in daily discourse and daily decision making. I found that previously - when discussing one topic or another with a family member, friend or colleague - I would say “I think this” and the other would say “I think that.” Now I whip out my iPhone to see if the disagreement can be resolved on the spot by evidence rather than speculation. Similarly, little daily decisions - ranging from what to wear given the likely weather, what restaurant to eat at, where to find a restroom, whether someone is available to meet and where - are all made instantaneously based on evidence coming from the iPhone in my pocket.
Steve Jobs transformed our culture and served as a model of successful entrepreneurship. He sorely will be missed.