You know that game where you fantasize about whom you’d invite to a dinner party? Well, Steve Jobs was always high on my list. (Along with Winston Churchill). When I heard that he died, I felt a tremendous sense of sadness and loss. Jobs was someone who saw a better way to do things, a future none of us could envision, and fought like hell to take us there.
But though I’ve never met him, I sense he wouldn’t want us to wax rhapsodic on his passing, but rather to learn and be inspired from his life. In that spirit, here are 3 lessons we can take away from his life and the impact he’s had on us all.
1) Inspiration Comes in Unusual Places In an industry whose products are brutally cost-competitive almost to the point of being commoditized, Apple’s products have always cost more than their competitors. They got away with that by marrying superior technology to stylish industrial design. And where did Jobs get his inspiration for Apple’s graceful minimalist aesthetic? Calligraphy.
Jobs dropped out of Reed College after one semester, but returned later to audit a class in calligraphy, which he says influenced Apple’s sleek, polished, understated design. Are you grasping the irony here? Calligraphy is a slow, deliberate, old-school art form that on the surface seems the antithesis of modern technology.
Takeaway: To truly tap your creative potential, expose yourself to areas completely outside your normal frame of reference.
2) Second Chances. If you’re under 25 years old, you probably don’t realize that in 1986 Jobs was actually fired from the company he founded. Apple meandered through mediocrity for the next ten years. It wasn’t until Jobs was given a second chance to run the company that he truly took Apple to the next level and transformed so many aspects of our every day lives. Jobs later said that being fired was one of the best things that ever happened to him.
Bill Belichick, widely considered the smartest coach in football, has a similar story. After being a brilliant defensive coordinator for the New York Giants, he was given his chance as a head coach of the Cleveland Browns where he failed miserably, compiling only one winning season in five years. It was on his second chance, as head coach of the Patriots, that he truly made his mark, winning 3 Super Bowls.
Takeaway: Sometimes failure is the missing ingredient to genius.
3) Crowd Sourcing is for Sissies. Apple never held focus groups. According to Jobs, “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
That’s worth noting in today’s era of user-generated, crowd-sourced agendas, event locations, menus, themes, etc. Crowd-sourcing has its uses, but it’s not the be-all-and-end-all. The next time someone pushes you to incorporate it into your event and you want a reason to say no, just say, “Apple never holds focus groups.” There’s really no response to that, except perhaps, “well, we’re not even going to pretend to be innovative.”
Takeaway: Shackle innovation to group consensus at your own risk.
The list of incredible product innovations brought to us by Steve Jobs is long indeed. But perhaps it is the life lessons we can glean from him that are even more impactful.