Steve Jobs will go down in history as one of the greatest American businessmen because of his ability to innovate and reinvent so many industries – after failing and losing face in front of the world. Much has been written about him, but as a Silicon Valley insider who has co-launched a half dozen startups and advised corporations, here are the most impressive lessons he taught us:
Design for users. Silicon Valley is an echo chamber where new ideas are repeated and copied endlessly, but most of this noise is marketing hype. Steve Jobs focused on designing products for average users, not engineers. In a world where complex “technologies in search of solutions” reign, he focused on average user needs and simplified the design so everyone can use Apple products. As Silicon Valley shifts from U.S. enterprise markets to global consumer markets, this focus on user-centric design will become even more important. For stagnating or developing regions, it’s the best way to develop appropriate technologies.
Seek uniqueness. In an era of fast, cheap copycat products made in China, innovators have become rare. Don’t follow the herd. Seek out your own path. Be different. Be original. Be unique. Just don’t be boring. Delight your customers!
Keep it simple. The essence of great design is simplicity. Steve Jobs’ study of Zen and Japanese design are apparent in the Zen-like quality of Apple products – no muss, no fuss, no extra frills, just clean, functional design. Most companies gunk up their offerings with useless features. K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple, Stupid! That could be Steve’s enduring slogan.
Keep your own counsel. With the Internet and smartphones, too many businesses today drown in a flood of information and advice and end up copying each other out of desperation to keep up. The me-too herd mentality has gotten worse, especially with the rise of China and other developing nations trying to copy Silicon Valley. Copycats have become so rampant that true originality and innovation have become scarce, thus the rise of patent wars. Business schools and most “experts” are only making it worse, focusing on short-term profits and “best practices”. If you want to innovate, turn off everything, take long walks, daydream, sketch and brainstorm ideas over coffee, and do anything to find your own voice and style. Otherwise, you’ll just add to the noise.
Develop a thick skin. If you’re truly innovative, you’ll be laughed at, belittled, criticized, and dismissed by most people. Ignore them and focus on realizing your vision and dream. Building a venture is like playing World Cup football; only truly committed players with thick skin and endurance survive and have a chance to win. Steve Jobs had incredibly thick skin, so he managed to retain his hopes, dreams, delight and awe in the face of harsh criticism and numerous setbacks.
Build an A-team. Find the best talent who share your goals and build something together. If you hire a B-class person, that person will recruit C- and D-class people in order to look good and your company will sink into mediocrity overnight. One A-class person is worth a half dozen B-class people; they work faster, cheaper and better, and you’ll avoid lots of useless meetings. Look overseas for talent, not just at home, since the top talent is worldwide, which is where most startups fail. Most Silicon Valley startups have a few co-founders in California, with most of the team overseas, which is easy to do with the Internet and Skype. Steve Jobs recruited John Ive and Frog Design to get the top design talent.
Resilience is all. Steve Jobs failed repeatedly – with bad products, in his relationships, in his management practices – but he never quit. He learned from his mistakes and came back stronger, wiser and more determined than ever. He’s like the “Daruma” in Japanese lore: down seven times, back up eight times. That’s why he’s one of the most brilliant business people of all times; he never, never gave up. His resilience and persistence in the face of adversity are legendary. How many people do you know who fail repeatedly, are laughed at and scorned, yet manage to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and perform even better, indeed brilliantly, as though nothing happened? That is indeed a rare talent.
Pursue your passion. That resilience came in large part because Steve Jobs ignored the advice of others and did what he truly loved doing – creating great products. In his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University, Steve said it best: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” As Socrates said: Know thyself!
Keep the fire alive. When most of us grow older, we lose our original passion and fire. We accept the status quo, mediocrity, and stale ideas and people. We basically give up on life. In Silicon Valley, we call it “the walking dead.” Even though he was successful beyond belief, Steve Jobs never fell prey to entropy and despair. He did everything within his power to stay alive, alert, open, clear and driven like a child, which is why his last decade of life was the most creative and totally transformed the world with the iPod, iMac, iPhone, iStore, and iPad. As he said: “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” He knew he had to stay hungry like people around the world who are always hungry for great products, services and inspiration. Even at the end of his life, he was awed by beauty, saying: “Oh, wow! Oh, wow! Oh, wow!”
Maybe you be constantly awed by life like Steve and keep his fire bright and alive in your own life and business. If you do, you will have learned the best of Silicon Valley. You will be a mover and shaker in your world and make it better for all of us.
I’m finishing his e-book, “In the Valley of Digital Dreams” (2012). You’re also welcome to join my groups: http://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/109971182359978/, https://twitter.com/#!/SheridanTatsuno, www.dreamscapeglobal.com