If you haven’t seen the article yet, Fortune Magazine has declared Steve Jobs, CEO of the Decade. In their own words,
How’s this for a gripping corporate story line: Youthful founder gets booted from his company in the 1980s, returns in the 1990s, and in the following decade survives two brushes with death, one securities-law scandal, an also-ran product lineup, and his own often unpleasant demeanor to become the dominant personality in four distinct industries, a billionaire many times over, and CEO of the most valuable company in Silicon Valley.
Not a bad story, is it? Furthermore, at the start of the decade, Apple had a market cap of “just” $5B. It now hovers around $170B (slightly larger than Google). What that means is that despite the market crashes of the dot.com boom and last year, if you had invested $1,000 in Apple in 2000, your investment would now be worth over $7500 (I think most of us would gladly accept that). And finally, Jobs has been instrumental in changing four completely different industries–computers, music, media and mobile phones—three of those in the past decade.
Any way you add it up, the past 33 years have been a pretty incredible run for Steve Jobs—and we’ve all benefitted—even if you’re a PC. But the question for you and me is, “What can we learn from him that can make a difference in our businesses?” Here are my top five lessons.
1. Improve on the next new thing. What’s fascinating about Jobs and Apple is that Apple has become the symbol for innovation. However, Apple rarely creates anything entirely new. In fact, one of Steve Jobs’ comments on this subject years ago was, “We look for the next new thing and then make it better.” In other words, Apple didn’t invent the mp3 player, they just made it better. They didn’t invent the cell phone, they just made it better. They look for trends they think are going to be big—and then figure out how to make that “new thing” infinitely better.
So, in your realm, what are the next new things or new trends you’re observing in your market space? How can you create a better product and/or service that can improve on the current offerings in that market space?
2. Change before you have to. As a long standing card carrying Mac Addict, one of my favorite sites is MacRumors. And one of my favorite parts of the site is the buyer’s guide which tracks the time between new iterations of a product (and let’s you know where they are in cycle). Even when Apple is making good money, they keep introducing new models or discontinuing old models so that none of their competitors can catch up (i.e. they change before they have to).
I’ll never forget the day Steve Jobs was talking about the iPod mini and how it was the most successful launch they had ever had up to that point in time. And then he said, “And that’s why today we’re killing the iPod mini … (dramatic pause) … and introducing the iPod nano!” Who else would have killed a cash cow right in the middle of a growth cycle? Only Steve and crew!
So, what products and/or services have you been riding for too long? Do you need to revamp or upgrade any of them? Do you need to discontinue any of them? And/or what new thing do you have in the pipeline?
3. Eliminate what ticks people off. The supposed story of the iPhone is that a bunch of Apple execs were at a meeting when they were all complaining, tangentially, about their cell phones. In the midst of that discussion someone said, “We’re all a bunch of bright people. We should be able to do this better.” Or if you had ever tried to download an app several years ago and load it on a Palm device, you know it was a major pain (it ticked people off). What Apple did with the App store was/is nothing short of remarkable. Or if you had ever tried to download music and put it on your mp3 player pre-iPod, you know it was a major pain. The iPod and iTunes store combo simply eliminated that piece of the puzzle that just ticked people off.
So, what are the issues that tick off the people in your market space? Find the key ones and design a simple solution to solve that problem.
4. Repurpose what you can. If you haven’t been in the Apple fold, you could easily miss this, but Apple is great about repurposing ideas and technology. For example, back in the 90’s, if you wanted to see a movie trailer on the internet, the best place was to go to the Apple site, which highlighted movie trailers and their product Quicktime. But that experience and built in infrastructure for movies made streaming music for the iTunes store infinitely easier. And the experience of the iTunes store made creating the App store for the iPhone infinitely easier. Or the Safari browser for the Mac, made it infinitely easier to create a great web experience on the iPhone (which was night and day ahead of Palm and Blackberry when it debuted). Or the experience with NeXT, led to Mac OS X. On and on you could go. The, “Apple Way,” is not just to create something new, but to repurpose what they already know into a different arena.
So what do you know or have or do that could be repurposed to create a new product or service for your market?
5. Think big and small at the same time. Some leaders are just big picture people. Others are just small picture people. However, what makes Steve so powerful is that he’s both. Steve gets it that executives need to make big picture, bold strategic moves (like canceling several product lines in ‘97 and focusing on just four products). However, he’s also famous for being nit picky and focused on the very intricate details of the business–especially when it comes to design issues and market messaging. As he said to Ken Segall (who used to be at Chiat/Day, the ad agency) on day, “The third word in the fourth paragraph isn’t right. You might like to think about that one.”
Looking back on your history, are you more of a big picture person? Or a small picture kind of person? Whichever one you are, how could you add the other to your wheelhouse and become more versatile ?
So, there you have it, “Five Lessons from Steve Jobs, CEO of the Decade.” The only question remaining is, “What are you going to do in the next few moments in response to it?”
To your accelerated success!