Sunday, March 7, 2010

Key lessons from the life and times of Steve Jobs

I had completed reading the Book- Inside steve’s brain a while back. I found this book an excellent representation of the business lessons that can be learned from the life of Steven Paul "Steve" Jobs , the co-founder and chief executive officer of Apple Inc.

I have this inherent interest of going through the biographies of the people who have strived to excel in their chosen fields. (i could have used the word "Successful" in the previous sentence while describing the people who achieve something, but i tend to refrain from using that word because Success to me is very subjective, its very definition changes from people to people. I find Striving to Excel much meaningful representation here).
The prime driver of this interest is that there is a lot to learn from these people who had managed to do the seemingly unthinkable things. Books are simply a great medium which virtually help to connect to these people's lives and imbibe the learnings.

I have read quite a few biographies in the past and i would love to share my learnings through this medium.
This post is obviously all about Steve Jobs. Here are some detailed insights into what Steve Jobs is made up of-

Taking hard decisions head-on:
When Jobs took over as a CEO of Apple, he took a critical view of the situation at Apple. He arranged for each product group to present to him or rather virtually sell to him on the work they were doing, why it is important and why should be keep on funding them. In effective, the overall review process resulted in him taking some very tough decisions ranging from either the non critical projects being cut down or people being "steved" (meaning fired in Apple folklore).

He had to make some very hard tough decisions but he had courage and conviction to take them head-on rather than procrastinating or delaying them just because they were tough to make.
There is no official track on how much time human beings waste by just delaying some decisions just because they are uncomfortable but it were to be calculated, it would virtually run into zillions of hours wasted.
Facing hard decisions head-on is a vital quality for any decision maker.

Not hesitating to rightly say "No" when situation demands:
Steve Job's favorite mantra at Apple is: Focus means saying "No". When Apple first launched iMac, Jobs insisted on it not having a Floppy drive, which was an essential part of any computer of that era. It received a severe backlash from critics in the market with one of the critic even went ahead and declared-
"The iMac is clean, elegant, floppy free- and doomed."
As a fact of matter, Jobs himself wasn’t too sure about his decision to exclude the floppy drive given the odds stacked against him, But he still went ahead and said "No" to it trusting his gut. Also, the factors that helped him take this decision was the iMac was primarily supposed to be one of the early Internet computers and also that it was one of the first computers to be shipped with USB.
Whatever be the reasoning, it does take a tremendous mental effort to say "No" trusting your guts and knowledge when everyone else in the visible world is saying "Yes" to something. Many a professional situations demand that we say "No" but we end up saying "Yes" merely because of a feeling of lack of power on our part to reason the "Yes" men out. It does take a huge strength of character and belief in one's ability to be able to rightly say "No" when situation demands.

Focus on what you are good at; delegate all else:
Steve Jobs has a great sense of his strengths which is new product development, cutting deals for Apple (he is a master negotiator) and giving product presentations (which are flawless to say the least). At the same time, he knows what he is not good at- i.e. Directing movies, or handling the Wall Street or doing the Operations related tasks. His idea seems to be always playing to strength and take the advantage of the fact that there are people who can do the other jobs better than the way he could do. This aspect shows 2 points- One is the self awareness and second is not hesitating to admit that he cannot be good at everything. In professional life, there are many who have certain blind spots about themselves which prevent them to maximize their potential.
If one is not good at something, it often eases the work as well as the work relationships to actually delegate the tasks away. It is certainly not a sign of weakness.

Attention to details:
Steve Jobs is known for his obsession with details. As one of the design folks of Apple, Ratzlaff (who worked directly with Steve) says- "He was way down into the details. He would scrutinize everything, down to pixel level." He was so much so involved in the design that he had his own ideas how the seemingly minor thing such as Scrollbar should look like.
As goes one of the sayings- "God lies in detail", often the difference between a good job and a not-so-good job lies in the level of detail spent.

Never compromise with Excellence:
In Jan 1999, the day before the introduction of a new line of multicolored iMacs, Steve Jobs was practicing his product presentation at a big auditorium near Apple's HQ. Five of the machines in a range of bright colors were mounted on a sliding pedestal hidden behind the curtain, ready to take center stage on Jobs's cue.
Jobs wanted the moment when they slid out from behind the curtain to be projected onto a large video screen looming over the stage. The Technicians set it up, but Jobs didnt think the lighting was doing the translucent machine justice. The iMacs looked good onstage, but they didn’t really shine on the projection screen. He then kept asking the technician crew to alter the lighting till it looks just perfect. Finally, after the fourth attempt, they hit the bull’s eye and he was satisfied.
The above excerpt provide Jobs's commitment to Excellence. The key learnings from this is that one should marry Excellence in everything one does and then success becomes a mere formality.

Decision making through Intellectual combat:
Jobs makes decision by fighting about ideas. Its hard and demanding but rigorous and effective.
Though Jobs had a reputation of being a micro manager but he is smart enough to involve and engage people rightly to make worthwhile decisions.
The key learnings here- Never lose focus on the betterment of organization while making decisions. Involve people, look at an idea from all the possible directions. The idea for iPod’s scroll wheel came from Phil Schiller, the head of Apple’s marketing who was never a part of formal design process.

Dont Innovate for the sake of Innovation:
All about this here.

Dont be afraid of trial and error:
The typical design process at Apple goes through the myriad of trial and errors. Even the iPod's breakthrough interface was discovered through a process of trial and error. Such processes require a lot of perseverance and tolerance for mistakes but the end result is often a very refined one.
While indulging in any new task never hesitate to commit mistakes as long as one can learn and the output becomes close to perfection.

Well, these learnings are few of my chosen ones from this wonderful book.
I intend to supplement the series by sharing the learnings from biographies from other wonderful people. Watch out this space for more!

Thank you for reading through. I would love to hear any comments and feedback!


Vittal said...

Hi Anuj,

Thanks for sharing your learning. The ideas are thought provoking.

I am not challenging the purity and the effectiveness of the ideas, but would definitely like to know, how they can be applied and be effective in our work models and culture.

Its different worlds when we look at western corporate and eastern corporate culture.

Do share your thoughts.


Anuj Magazine said...

Hi Vittal,
Thank you for your comments. I will address you question largely in a separate post but Did you had any specific idea (or application of it) in mind when you said- but would definitely like to know, how they can be applied and be effective in our work models and culture.


Vittal said...

Hi Anuj,

Thanks for your response.

Well what i meant was, how best can Indian Corporate houses build innovative culture.

What is the best way to get the job done while still being innovative at the same time.