Seven Lessons We've Learned From Steve Jobs
Seven Lessons We’ve Learned from Steve Jobs
Seven Lessons We’ve Learned from Steve Jobs

I’ve watched Steve Jobs for more than 30  years as he’s reshaped one industry after another with pioneering computers and electronic devices. His vision and flair for innovation is legendary–and rare in corporate America. Processes and systems dominate in most companies, and we’re brainwashed over time to play it safe with our programs and products and color within the lines.  Meanwhile Jobs kept ignoring the critics, swinging for the fences and connecting.

What can we mere mortals learn from the planet’s most famous businessman? Below is a starting list of lessons I’ve cobbled from my studying Jobs, and I’m sure there are plenty more (feel free to chime in).

1. Keep it simple

Image representing Steve Jobs as depicted in C...
Image via CrunchBase

Most consumer products are far too complex. Why? Because they’re designed by engineers, and they want to include every button and feature possible (Think of Microsoft Windows or a typical TV remote). Jobs insisted on simplicity in all his designs and a minimalist approach to create seamless customer experiences.

“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]

2. Design and quality

Jobs had a passion for elegant, sleek but practical designs, going back to the original Macs. Apple’s devices had to look and operate in his vision — which meant flawlessly. (“Design” also meant how it worked.)

Jobs relied on his own intuition and sense of design, and that of his team, rather than his customers’ feedback.  This goes back to his roots at Apple with the original Macintosh.

“We think the Mac will sell zillions, but we didn’t build the Mac for anybody else. We built it for ourselves. We were the group of people who were going to judge whether it was great or not. We weren’t going to go out and do market research. We just wanted to build the best thing we could build.”

3. Sweat the details

Jobs insisted that Apple nail every single detail — it might be the letters in a logo or the exact wording in a speech (one of his speechwriters said he’d call on Sunday nights to rework a speech or refine specific phrases). This enormous attention to detail separated him and Apple from competitors, such as the Microsoft-based PC.

“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.”

4. Cut your losses 

The successful companies I’ve worked for had one common feature: they were results driven and they cut their losses. Programs that failed to meet objectives were quickly killed, compared to other companies that hung on to losers. When Jobs took over Apple again in 1997, he killed off dozens of cash-draining programs that didn’t meet his central vision such as the Newton. He was likely despised and feared by engineers wedded to their projects, but he wasn’t there to make friends-he was out to save a company.

This means never becoming complacent, never accepting second place.

As Jobs said in the 2005 Commencement speech at Stanford, “When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: ‘If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.’ It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

5. Be persistent

I recently saw a study that showed that patience and persistence was one of the leading indicators of whether someone will be successful in life or not (the study followed people starting early in life for over 20 years). Do you have the stamina and willpower to keep pushing ahead for months, years, decades when you truly believe in a vision?

Jobs never gave up. After being pushed out at Apple in 1985, he returned 12 years later. He fought against the mainstream PC market long after many people had written off Apple, and has stuck to the helm as CEO the last few years to see his vision through, even as his health has failed.

6. Think ahead of your customers

Jobs was always a few steps ahead of  the market, always thinking of their next needs. Visionaries don’t rely on customers. They see the needs and market opportunities first; they think ahead.

“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]

And there’s this gem from 1985:  “The most compelling reason for most people to buy a computer for the home will be to link it to a nationwide communications network. We’re just in the beginning stages of what will be a truly remarkable breakthrough for most people — as remarkable as the telephone.” [Playboy, Feb. 1, 1985]

7.  Believe

Technology is a brutal business, and you have to truly believe in your vision to see it through.  As my (late) Dad used to say, “Things always work out, you just don’t know how.”

Steve Jobs was more eloquent in his 2005 commencement speech:

“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.”

What Jobs’ lessons can you apply? Can you simplify a product or program to its bare essence? Can you cut your losers, and focus on one single priority? Can you cut through the noise and visualize a future product/program ahead of your customers?

Above all, can you follow your passion?

What lessons have you learned from Steve Jobs?

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About the Author

Mark Ivey
Mark Ivey is a social media consultant with the ION Group and a published author with a broad corporate background in editorial, marketing, social media and executive communications. He’s served as a Bureau Chief at BusinessWeek magazine, national media spokesman for Intel, and recently, as Editor in Chief for Hewlett Packard, where he pioneered a new program to drive its enterprise blogs and other social media activities. Besides family, friends and good wine, his passion is social media-training, strategizing, and exploring new digital paths for his clients. Find him on Twitter at @markivey.
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  • Alriske

    Good stuff, Mark, though lessons 4 and 5 do seem to contradict each other.

    • Al- Good point. Maybe the “be persistent” applies more to the “vision” and big picture and to his core concepts-for instance, focus on quality and design–not necessarily all the individual products and programs. So I’m sure he cut dozens of products (and people) that either didn’t pan out, while keeping his overall vision. Less successful companies I’ve worked for seem to be less ruthless and less results-driven..hope this makes sense. thanks

  • Rene Siegel

    Thank you, Mark. Brilliantly summarized here, and I’m planning to share this with the 100+ college students I spoke to at SJSU last weekend. I was also an early Mac fanatic who was chastised by colleagues, husband and friends for my inexplicable devotion to All Things Apple. It wasn’t until last year that my MSEE husband Eric and my systems engineer friend Jeremy both (finally!) converted to Macs in a big way. Jeremy went so far as to throw out all the PCs in his home and buy Macs and iPads for his kids. I’m ever-so-proud to think, “Steve, I ‘got’ you years ago, and you really did accomplish your goal of making a dink in the universe.”

    • Rene- thanks for the comments, and feel free to share this with the students. You were one of the early Steve/Apple followers in Silicon Valley, so you’ve had the chance to watch this incredible business story and model emerge..inspiring to all of us.

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  • I think one of the most important things that I’ve learned from Steve Jobs (besides that you should always reference Steve Jobs and/or Apple when you talk about anything these days) is that you should take just about everything you learn in the textbooks and throw it out the window. While this will become less and less true, since more textbooks are specifically being RE-written because of him, the fact still remains.
     If you look at most of the real-life stories about Jobs, he did a whole lot WRONG when compared to traditional management strategies. I mean, people were afraid to get on the ELEVATOR with him. Granted, this was more nervousness than fear, it still doesn’t jive with some current management teachings. 

    I think of Jobs kind of like the Michael Jordan of business. He did a whole lot wrong, he failed many times, and he’ll be the first one to admit that, but his successes were so monumental that people can’t even remember the failures.

    • I couldn’t agree more. Jobs broke a lot of management and business rules. Who would go up against the Microsoft/Intel PC machine in the late 90s and stay the course with the Apple line of computers? (their main market was creative types like graphic designers, and education…it was almost seen as a joke going after the business market, or mass consumer). His first slogan coming out was “Think Different”- and he did.. Even today Apple charts a much different course (avoiding, for instance, the rush to be big in social media, rarely giving interviews, etc). I’ve also used the Michael Jordan comparison before-they come along once in a lifetime..thanks for the comments 

  • Да действительно интересно. Просто и интересно. Необходимо каждый день что то делать тогда что то будет происходить, меняться. Может что то не будет получаться, но это будет стимулом научиться это делать правильно.

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  • Great
    post .

    You always are on the edge of thinking outside the box and very

    Online Business
    Virtual Assistant

  • David Burlison

    Thanks..Well done site-very interesting/informative..


    (Feel free to post on our forum)

  • pay roll

    this was a really great post. In theory I’d like to write like this also –
    taking time and real effort to make a good article… but what can I say… I
    procrastinate alot and never seem to get something done.

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  • Mark,
    These sentences from Steve Jobs’ commencement speech “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.” is so important. I just finished reading “Man’s Seach for Meaning” by Victor Frankl. He learned this very same lesson from the concentration camps.

    Too many people give up too soon. Having belief and trusting that if you take the proper action, it will happen is one of the lessons we all need to learn.

    Thanks for the inspiring post.


    • It’s one of my favorite quotes too, and I agree many of us give up too soon vs trusting that our persistent efforts will pay off eventually. Thanks for commenting. 

  • I like 1 & 2. Especially the part about “passion” in #2.

  • Thank you Mark, this is a great post! There a a lot of things we can learn from Jobs, and you’ve done a great job narrowing it down to 7. I bought my first Mac in 2002 and have never looked back! I especially love this quote…it’s very inspirational: 

    “When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: ‘If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.’ It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

    • Thanks, and yes, lessons and wisdom for everyone in that quote.


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