The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs

The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs 150 150 Cypher

The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs

Six months after his death, the author of Steve Jobs’ biography, Walter Isaacson, wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review magazine. It first appeared in April 2012 called the Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs.

In it Isaacson was trying to use some of Jobs’ most heralded traits as lessons every would-be successful CEO can try to adopt. There are 14 lessons in all. I haven’t critiqued them all, but Alan and I discussed a few on the Mind Your Business Podcast.

Push for Perfection
Isaacson writes that during the development of almost every product he ever created, at a certain point Jobs “hit the pause button” and went back to the drawing board because he felt it wasn’t perfect. He stopped production and rewrote the Toy Story Movie along with director John Lasseter to make it friendlier, he decided to delay the opening of Apple stores so layouts could be reorganised around activities and not just product categories and famously he did the same with the initial I-Phone design because the prototype came with an aluminium case that Jobs felt competed with the display too much, making it too masculine, task-driven and efficient, so he asked the team – after nine months of designing – to change it.

Disconcertingly, this advice flies in the face of what I tell a lot of my clients.  In my experience, when business owners are launching something new, they often get crippled by searching for perfection and we have a mantra at Cypher that ‘version one’ is better than ‘version none’. My view, which is shared by Agile developers the world over, is that getting something out there and then refining it, ideally with the customer in mind is the best way for SMEs to go.

Now of course when Steve Jobs first introduced us to the I-phone, which was an I-pod, a computer and a phone all in one and all in your hand, many considered it was perfection. He was famous for setting new standards- it gave Apple its blue-sky space ahead of the competition and while it has been improved on 15 times since its launch, every other smart phone in history owes its existence to Jobs and his strive for perfection.

But I think the reality for smaller business owners, who don’t have the R&D budget that Apple enjoys, is that ‘good enough’ is often good enough. So aim high, perfect what you can but don’t lose out to procrastination.

This is a rather awkward word that essentially means judging a book by its cover. Jobs was obsessed with how the packaging looked and felt as he thought this had a large impact on how the product – and by association the brand-was perceived. Jobs believed that unboxing an iPhone or iPad should be ritual-like theatre and herald the glory of the product inside. He wanted to set the tone for the tactile experience the product offered.

There feels like some synergy here between pushing for perfection and the ‘Impute’ ethos of making the packaging for whatever you are selling look and feel as good- if not better- than the actual product itself.

One of the banks we use is Tide, I got my credit card through from them the other day and it was a completely different experience. The box has a ribbon on it and as you pull the ribbon the box unfolds and the card pops up. It’s a wow moment for what is a very simple product. Tide is a challenger brand, they are modern, they are funky and they have thought about every touchpoint along the customer journey.

We aim for something similar at Cypher; from the first meeting to the proposal to being on-boarded we have tried to create a seamless journey. There is no point in the journey where the standard drops and we deliver something that’s fundamentally different quality from the first thing that we deliver. There is nothing worse than contacting a plumbing business that differentiates itself by offering a 24-hour call out service and getting the answer phone at 3AM telling you to call back at 8AM.

Never underestimate the power of perception of how you do one thing is how you do everything.

Isaacson highlights that Steve Jobs could adopt a Zen-like focus at any given moment, which was accompanied by an unerring ability to simplify things by zeroing in on their essence and eliminating unnecessary components. It came, according to Isaacson, from his time working the night shift at Atari as a college dropout. Atari’s games came with no manual and needed to be uncomplicated enough that even a stoned freshman could figure them out.

Jobs aimed for the simplicity that comes from conquering, rather than merely ignoring, complexity.

Now before Christmas, I was on the lookout for a new car. I spent time with many brands, some that have dealership networks and some that don’t and I landed on a Tesla. You can read my thoughts on why an electric car is the way to go.  The car came with few options; how big do you want the battery to be, what colour do you want and what colour do you want the seats to be? That’s it.

In contrast, my dad wanted an electric VW and that had some 37 different base models before even considering colours and additions. Now he wasn’t even bothered about the majority of the things VW were trying to sell him and in the end he got so fed up with all the questions that he went for a Tesla too.

There’s a simplicity to the buying process that brands like Polestar and Tesla have reimagined and often a simplicity to a product that is easy to define and that is key to any business.

Engage face to face.
Despite being a denizen of the digital world, or maybe because he knew all too well its potential to be isolating, Jobs was a strong believer in face-to-face meetings. He believed that creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. He even had the Pixar building designed to promote unplanned encounters and collaborations.

At its heart is a central atrium. The front doors, the main stairs and corridors all led to the atrium; the café and the mailboxes were there; the conference rooms had windows that looked out onto it and the 600-seat theatre and two smaller screening rooms all spilled into it.

We are in the situation, like so many businesses, where we operate a hybrid working pattern. Some days we are in the office, some days we’re at home. We have tried to keep everyone together through daily Zoom calls but even then that can be done in isolation and the knowledge from them is never shared.

Just think of the information we pick up consciously or sub consciously from hearing a colleague on the phone. How much do we absorb, just be listening to other people’s conversations with the customers. How much have we missed over the last two years just by not being able to listen to other people’s conversations with the customers? If it’s not written down, it’s not put into a system it won’t be known to others.

This article was written almost 10 years ago, the world has since shifted on its axis and we have all had to learn to work differently, but I think Isaacson’s synopsis of some of the great Steve Jobs’ idiosyncrasies and quirks are a very good reminder from beyond the grave about the effectiveness of his approach.

The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs
Take Responsibility End to End
When Behind, Leapfrog
Put Products Before Profits
Don’t Be a Slave To Focus Groups
Bend Reality
Push for Perfection
Tolerate Only “A” Players
Engage Face-to-Face
Know Both the Big Picture and the Details
Combine the Humanities with the Sciences
Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish

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