Steve Jobs died last week and along with him may have passed some of America’s hopes, dreams and potential for future jobs. Bur, this need not be the case, if we can learn the key lessons that Mr. Jobs, this quintessential American, provided through his life, leadership and continuous and incredible ability to reinvent himself and his businesses.
President Obama described Jobs as “among the greatest of American innovators.” Many other articles and tributes characterized Jobs as a visionary.
Indeed, Jobs was an innovator and a visionary. But, we think the more accurate label for him would be that of an “evolutionary revolutionary”:
Evolutionary, in that Jobs was a life-long learner engaged in a personal and professional journey of exploration, discovery and growth. Revolutionary, in that he was countercultural redefining the industries he touched and transforming part of the world in accordance with his own image, likeness and preferences.
Here are some of the lessons from Mr. Jobs, the evolutionary revolutionary:
- Be Future Focused. As those rare interviews with the extremely private and secretive Jobs revealed, he didn’t live in the past and was not impressed by his own accomplishments. His life was one of becoming rather than being. He looked forward and outward not backward and inward. He never asked, “What’s been done.” He always asked — to borrow a phrased based on one of his product lines — “What is Next?”
- Exceed Expectations. Jobs put the “i” into phone, and pod and pad. In doing so, he captured most of the buying public because that “i” was we. Jobs gave us products that delighted and dazzled and created needs that we had not even imagined. As a result, he established an emotional bond and an interdependent relationship which converted customers into technological and electronic cultists — devotees willing standing in line to get the new product or upgrade as soon as it came out.
- Good Enough is Never Good Enough. Being the first to market with a new product was not Job’s hallmark or secret for business success. Redefining the market with the “best” product was. He accomplished this by being a detailed perfectionist and the master of intuitive and minimalist design. His mantra was simplify, simplify, simplify. As soon as the “best” new product was introduced, he and his team went to work to make it even better. In the week of Jobs death, Apple introduced the iphone 4s and 5 is in the wings.
- Trust Your Gut. Jobs was never a slave to the conventional wisdom. In fact, he played the game the other way. He took the unexpected and unanticipated and made them conventional ways of doing business. There is no better example of this than Jobs’ success with Pixar, the computer animation studio that he bought from George Lucas in 1986 for10M. At that time, many in the investment community saw this move by Jobs as dalliance or a pure vanity move. Nothing could have been further from the truth. After helping to develop the next generation of computer graphics and building the Pixar brand through vehicles likeToy Story, he sold Pixar to The Walt Disney Co. for $7.4 billion
- Be Your Own Person. Jobs was a firm and absolute believer in defining and shaping ones own destiny. Jobs’ philosophy in this regard is best captured in his own words from his 2005 Stanford commencement address where he advised the graduates, “Your time is limited so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice.”
- Leave A Living Legacy. Jobs’ legacy is ensured by his extraordinary achievements. Walter Isaacson has written a soon-to-be-released authorized biography of Jobs which will substantiate his contributions and certainly provide new insights into the man. Jobs, however, recognized that for a legacy to survive it must be sustained and the only way that can be done is through the ongoing efforts of others. Jobs understood that spirit and creativity are the invisible forces that move organizations and individuals and keep them vital and forever young. That is why this man who did not complete even one year of college founded Apple University to teach company executives and future leaders to think like him and to tap their own and the company’s full potential
A few commentators have cited Jobs as an example of American exceptionalism. Some dispute the concept of American exceptionalism. No one, on the other hand, could ever dispute the fact that Steve Jobs was an extraordinary American.
This extraordinary American in his dress uniform of sneakers, faded jeans and black mock turtle neck taught his lessons through positive examples and deeds. He stands in stark contrast to pandering politicians in their mental straight jackets and buttoned-down business executives in their camouflage suits who substitute hollow rhetoric and meaningless promises for meaningful actions and problem-solving.
America and the world need extraordinary Americans. Steve Jobs showed us that the future belongs to those who can envision and create it and not to those who are mired in the past and define themselves by limits rather than possibilities.
If we, as American realize this, and heed and act upon his lessons, we will once again be able to renew our American hopes, dreams and jobs. We will be able to respond to the question, “No More Jobs?” with the answer “No! More Jobs!”
Steve Jobs has already answered that question for himself and his business. We need to answer it now for us and our country.