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What We’ve Learned From Steve Jobs

Todd Gerstein
CEO & Founder
Smart WebParts, LLC

When I was a kid, Thomas Edison was my hero. Edison tested over 3000 filaments before he came up with his version of the practical light bulb. As shocking as it may seem, this was not his greatest invention. The miracle of Edison was providing light and power to the masses.

Jump forward 130 years.  Today, in my mind, Steve Jobs is the Thomas Edison of our generation. His greatest inventions: the iPod, iPhone, iPad and Mac computers. His miracle – providing these amazing computing devices to the masses.

It’s not new for someone in technology to say they admire Steve Jobs, or that they hope their company emulates Apple. But that doesn’t make it any less true. For me and my colleagues at Smart WebParts, Steve Jobs and Apple provide a constant source of inspiration.

We are lucky to be in Silicon Valley, just minutes from the Apple campus. We have friends in the company. What Apple is doing draws the constant attention of the press. The tech community is constantly dissecting their moves. Whenever we are in doubt, we ask “What would Steve Jobs and Apple do?”

In his role as businessman, he’s taught us that it’s usually better to follow your instincts and perhaps most importantly, dream big.

As an innovator, he’s taught us to – as the Apple tagline goes – think different, and in so doing we’ve engaged our imaginations and creative talents in the service of developing products that solve problems that were either deemed intractable or that our clients didn’t even know they had.

Below are some of my favorite qualities of one of our favorite leaders and his company.

Simplicity and Quality of Design

Steve Jobs understands that people need and crave an experience that is as simple and intuitive as possible, reducing friction and promoting total ease of use.

As he put it: “We tried to make something much more holistic and simple. When you first start off trying to solve a problem, the first solutions you come up with are very complex … But if you keep going, and live with the problem and peel more layers of the onion off, you can often times arrive at some very elegant and simple solutions. Most people just don’t put in the time or energy to get there.” [MSNBC and Newsweek interview, Oct. 14, 2006]

Beyond elegant, intuitive design, Apple products are known for their stability and quality. This derives from Jobs’ expectations that his company’s products should work flawlessly.

Attention to Detail

Jobs is famous for this, which is really a commentary on how rare this is in the business and tech worlds. In a world where shortcuts and substitutions and the like are no big deal, Jobs has made it known that at Apple, shoddiness and cheapness won’t be tolerated.

Jobs said: “When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.”

Persistence and Respect

Though Jobs has had his share of professional trials (not to mention the personal ones), he has never given up on his vision. He was forced out at Apple in 1985, but found a way to return 12 years later, remaking it into one of the most successful companies ever.

That kind of persistence, along with a respect for what he had created and for the customers his products served, inspires us.

Anticipate What Your Customers Need, and Then Serve Them

Instead of doing market research and focus groups, Jobs decided he would invent products that his customers could never have dreamed of, but that he was certain they would want. That’s the mark of a visionary.

As he said (and note the date!): “That doesn’t mean we don’t listen to customers, but it’s hard for them to tell you what they want when they’ve never seen anything remotely like it. Take desktop video editing. I never got one request from someone who wanted to edit movies on his computer. Yet now that people see it, they say, ‘Oh my God, that’s great!’” [Fortune, January 24 2000]

Trust in Your Vision

In Jobs’ now famous 2005 commencement speech at Stanford, he said:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.

I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”

Conclusion

In a way, everything Steve Jobs believes in seems so obvious: Simplicity, quality, value, innovation and service. It would seem old-fashioned and mundane if it weren’t so startlingly revolutionary and rare.

In a world where most people think alike, act alike, sell alike and consume alike, Steve Jobs not only thinks differently, but is teaching others how to think differently, too.

At the end of the day, he isn’t selling a mass-produced product to a market, even though he is. He’s selling something that he personally loves to an individual whom he hopes will love it just as much as he does.

Steve Jobs gets technology and he also gets people. That’s his magic combination.