What We Can Learn From Steve Jobs

By Investopedia Staff | October 05, 2011 AAA

Millions of people today are paying their tributes to Steve Jobs, arguably one of the most important and influential CEOs of modern day history. It is hard to find a person like Jobs. He had laser-like focus and demanded the utmost quality of his employees. From starting Apple in his garage, to getting ousted in 1985 from the very company he built, to coming back in 1997 and taking Apple (Nasdaq:AAPL) from the brink of bankruptcy to the largest company in the world, Steve has changed the world in more ways than one. Steve Jobs clearly had a significant impact on people around the world and left us along with the business community a few lessons we can all share. (For more on Steve Jobs, read Steve Jobs: Legacy Of A Tech Guru.)

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Focus on Quality, Not Money
To Jobs, it was never about the money. At age 22 he had nothing; at age 23 his net worth was $1 million; at age 24, $10 million; and at the age of 25, over $100 million. Along the way, he was uncomfortable with his fortune. His focus was on creating life-improving products and making an impact on a person's life. That's what drove him, that's what made him get up in the morning. Money was just a side effect that he didn't care to think about.

"Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn't matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we've done something wonderful - that's what matters to me," said Jobs.

The business community can take note. Put people first. Focus on quality.

Focus on the Future, Not the Present or Even the Past.
Always the visionary, Jobs was ahead of his time, time and time again. Too often companies can get trapped in the present, pumping out products with no inspiration. A few examples: In 1998 the first iMac came with no floppy disk drive whereas every other computer manufacturer had still included them at that time. The release of the iPhone did not have a keyboard whereas the Blackberry, the most popular smartphone at the time, had one. It also did not include flash as Jobs saw HTML 5 as the future. Now with the iPad, it promises to be the computer for everyone that the original Mac aspired to be. Through all of these decisions and more there was backlash, but in the end people eventually came around and benefited from this forward thinking. The world would be more innovative if more companies had the same focus. (For more on successful management stories, read Management Strategies From A Top CEO.)

Show People What They Want, Not What They Ask For
Never relying on focus groups, Jobs trusted one thing: himself.

"Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice," he said.

People often think they want something until they get shown an alternative they never thought possible. Another quality about Steve was his ability to say no, even more often than he said yes to ideas.

"The secret to innovation is saying no to 1,000 things," said Jobs.

Of course, no product was his idea alone, but he was the one that fostered the environment for ideas to be created and had the final say. The problem with focus groups is they can be influenced depending on the type of question asked, and the people involved have a preconceived notion of what they want based on the products that are out at the time. The business community should focus more on what they want, and focus on the future and less on the here and now.

The Bottom Line
There is no doubt the world has lost an amazing human being. A part of him will live on with the products we use and he will continue to be an inspiration to future leaders. No other CEO in recent memory has had rock stars and politicians show up at his door. Meanwhile, millions of people found out about his death on the very devices he helped create. The business community and future leaders should take note of his example: focus on quality, focus on the future and rely on your internal vision. The world will be a better place for it.

"The thing that drives me and my colleagues … is that you see something very compelling to you, and you don't quite know how to get it, but you know, sometimes intuitively, it's within your grasp. And it's worth putting in years of your life to make it come into existence," said Jobs. (For more on the characteristic of a good leader, read What Makes A Good Boss?)

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