There is a reason Steve Jobs is a legend and icon in the world of business, tech and entrepreneurship. He built some of the most revolutionary businesses of our time like Pixar film, NeXT and the world’s most valuable company—Apple Inc. And he did all this without having the most resources initially (Jobs cofounded Apple in his parents’ garage in 1976), the most connections or even the most smarts.
So how did he do it?
Jobs had a set of personality traits and success habits that stood out, propelled him forward and ultimately helped him achieve unbelievable success in his career. While you are your own person, and your business journey won’t be the same as his, assuredly you can learn a thing or two about Jobs’ revolutionary ways of building great companies.
Jobs’ unique qualities, including rough edges in his personality, set him apart from other entrepreneurs. His standout qualities are worth noting because they were integral to his success.
1. Jobs had audacious self-belief and imagination.
Many entrepreneurs envision building a company that grows and takes a sizable market share from competitors. And that’s a great vision. However, Steve Jobs went further than that. He not only envisioned his company taking market share from competitors, but also his company’s products and services revolutionizing the way people work, communicate and live their lives. He was such a strong believer that he built Apple’s products and services under the assumption they would change the world.
“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”
—Apple’s 1997 ‘Think Different’ commercial
2. Jobs had unwavering focus on products over profits.
While many entrepreneurs today focus more on making their business as profitable as possible, Jobs focused more on creating great products and services. His laser-like focus on products before profits had been honed by his Zen training and was ingrained in his personality—so much so that family members, friends and colleagues would at times be exasperated as they tried to get him to deal with other issues, such as a medical diagnosis or a legal problem they considered important.
Jobs never spoke of profit maximization or cost trade-offs. “Don’t worry about price,” he told the original team charged with designing the original Macintosh, in the early 1980s, “just specify the computer’s abilities.” His injunction was simple and clear: make it “insanely great.” Jobs didn’t care about the money. He cared about the quality of his products.
3. Jobs had unrelenting fervor for perfect design.
Jobs focused on design and became a master in the concept of innovative and interactive design. He insisted that his company’s designs be absolutely perfect. It was his belief that design is critical to developing next-generation products that people love. And so he pushed his company and employees to the limits—amazingly without going over the edge.
Walter Isaacson, the author of the biography of Steve Jobs, reports having asked Jobs about the Apple CEO’s tendency to be rough on people. “Look at the results,” Jobs replied. “These are all smart people I work with, and any of them could get a top job at another place if they were truly feeling brutalized. But they don’t.” Then he paused for a few seconds and, almost wistfully, said: “And we got some amazing things done.”
Jobs unrelenting fervor for perfect design was central to how he built his businesses. This zeal evolved into Apple’s competitive advantage over competitors and morphed into the company’s distinct brand.
4. Jobs had deep love for simplicity and a flair for the elegant.
Leonardo da Vinci famously said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Nobody in the tech world took this quote as seriously as Jobs did, it would appear. Jobs learned to admire simplicity when working the night shift at Atari game company as a college dropout. Atari’s games came with no manual and were designed to be so uncomplicated that a “stoned freshman could figure them out.” The only instructions for its Star Trek game, for example, were: “1. Insert quarter. 2. Avoid Klingons.”
Jobs appreciation of simplicity in design grew deeper after attending design conferences at the Aspen Institute in the late 1970s, which highlighted the value of functional design devoid of frills or distractions. So when Jobs was shown a cluttered set of proposed navigation screens for iDVD, which allowed users to burn video onto a disk, he felt compelled to simplify. Jobs promptly stood up, writes Isaacson, and drew a simple rectangle on a whiteboard. “Here’s the new application,” he said. “It’s got one window. You drag your video into the window. Then you click the button that says ‘Burn.’ That’s it. That’s what we’re going to make.”
Jobs aimed for the simplicity that comes from conquering, rather than merely ignoring complexity. “It takes a lot of hard work,” he said, “to make something simple, to truly understand the underlying challenges and come up with elegant solutions.”
5. Jobs was extremely passionate and fearless when it came to expanding and growing Apple.
In looking for opportunities to exploit and industries ripe for disruption, Jobs was passionate and fearless. Many of his actions and attempts to grow Apple and its products were controversial and at times risked the future of the company. It was this fearless, risky, go-getter attitude that got him fired from Apple, a company he’d founded, and then got him re-hired when the company began to struggle after he’d left.
Jobs always inquired who was making products that were more complicated than they should be. In 2001, portable music players and viable ways to acquire songs online fit that description, leading to the iPod and the iTunes Store. Mobile phones were next. Jobs would grab a phone at a meeting and emotionally rant that nobody could possibly figure out how to navigate half the features, including the address book. Then he’d push the people working with him for a simplified, more robust smart phone.
If you were an existing customer or a potential one, he made you understand why you had to have Apple’s products or services. He was the ultimate salesperson, as well as a true customer advocate. What a rare combination of attributes for an entrepreneur to possess.
Featured photo credit: Dan Farber via flickr.com