Five things I’ve learned from Steve Jobs
I’m almost finished with reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs.
Here are five reflections I’m taking away:
1. Keep people first, not products
Brilliant man, tireless worker, terrible family life. At one point he was the CEO of both Apple and Pixar. Amazing! Until you realize that during that time, he worked from 7am-9pm and didn’t have the energy to even talk with his wife when he got home. Plus, he barely saw his kids because they would be in bed already. All he had the strength to do is sit in front of the TV for 30 minutes and then go to bed. It’s a good reminder to be spending your energy primarily on people, even while you’re at work. People are what last. Tasks and products fade away.
2. Obsession is a highly directive force; be obsessed with the right things
Jobs was obsessed with design, products, marketing, and having end-to-end control. And anybody who knew him knows that. He’d spend most afternoons with Jony Ive in the design studio, picking up foam models of the latest Apple products, and getting a feel for what the next 3 years of the future looked like. He’d have 3 hour marketing meetings every week, pouring over every detail of different marketing pieces.
Your obsessions lead you somewhere very specific. If you take a step back today and look at where your obsessions might take you, would you change anything?
3. The power of focus is enormous—focus on the right things
When Jobs returned as CEO in the late 90s, Apple had lost its focus. It was doing so many things and trying to please so many people that it forgot how to do the core essentials well. So Jobs slashed everything that he didn’t think Apple should be involved in, and reduced their product line down to about four items: Pro Desktop, Pro Laptop, Consumer Desktop, Consumer Laptop. They were going to do just four products and do them really, really well. Many people thought he was crazy, and that it wouldn’t work, but it did. It simplified the product line, clarified the company’s vision, and gave everybody an enormous boost of creative passion. They dedicated all of their energy to making those few products great. As Walter Isaacson said of this move, “This ability to focus saved Apple.”
Jobs was incredible at focusing in on what mattered…and forgetting everything else. Some people simply couldn’t get through to him, and it was because he didn’t care about what they were talking about. Part of this is good and part of it is bad. On one hand, he was sometimes a jerk to people, but on the other hand, his ability to home in on design and product development is part of what made his contribution to the world so great.
The art of focus is in danger right now with how cluttered and distracted our lives have become. And I’ve realized how easy it is to bend to the desires of others and people-please your way through life. Jobs is an example of someone who can rise above the demands of others through a clarified vision of what matters most. That’s why he was so effective.
What’s one thing you can stop doing today so you can focus on what matters?
4. You don’t have to fit the world’s mold to be the right person for the position. In a lot of ways, Steve wasn’t supposed to be a good CEO. He was lopsided in his passions and didn’t care about finance or management, etc. But he ended up being an unconventional and incredible leader of Apple. Side note: he just off-loaded all the typical, boring CEO duties that he didn’t want to deal with…(brilliant!)
5. Life is not a straight line path. As a goal-oriented, A-to-B kind of person, it was fascinating and comforting to realize that Jobs was (1) fired from his own company, and that (2) he went off on side paths with NeXT and then Pixar and then went back to Apple. OK, I’ll admit that for Steve Jobs, “side paths” meant Toy Story, Cars, Finding Nemo, A Bug’s Life, and many other landmark films. Not everybody can point to things like that as side projects! But the encouragement for me is that life is more oceanic than grid-like. It takes you on an unexpected wave, and that is where most of the learning happens—not in success, but in failure (NeXT), setbacks (fired from Apple), and side paths (Pixar).
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