Steve Jobs built the world’s most valuable company, breaking just about every business rule in the process. He focused on simplifying things for the consumer and delivering the market what it wants without asking for it to tell him what it wants.
Ironically, if you sit through any sales or marketing lecture, you will hear the opposite — that the customer will tell us what they want. Jobs simply didn’t agree.
For today’s businesses large and small there are some lessons to be learned. However, not all of them are obvious. Here are 8 not-so-obvious lessons to be learned from the man that reinvented personal computing, music, and arguably the cloud.
- “Own” Design: Best known for his position that design is not about how something looks but how it works, Jobs took design very seriously and every product that he put in the market had a distinctive look, feel and experience. While not all businesses design computer hardware or even a tangible good, few do anything to “Truly” standout. Nonetheless, The more we do to create a distinctive design (differentiation), the better we serve our customers and ourselves.
- Embrace Simplicity: It is tough to find someone that will tell you they would rather have a Droid than an iPhone, a PC than a Mac, or a Zune over an iPod. Consumers seek simplicity. We will pay for a higher-quality, less-intrusive experience, especially with our Internet-enabled devices. This holds true among clients in many industries. They want the newest and coolest of everything, but that doesn’t mean they want the most complex. Does your offering make life for your customer simpler?
- Be Willing to Fail: At one point Jobs was pushed out of the business because he wasn’t seen fit to lead Apple. It wasn’t until much later and after the company nearly lost its identity that Jobs was brought back and he pioneered the original iMac. All entrpreneurs can learn from Jobs’ rags to riches, up and down struggles before achieving permanent success.
- Customers Don’t Always Know Best: Customers also have a tough time deciding what they want. By over-simplifying the offerings and making the best features available to all, Jobs ultimately went against the prevailing “have it your way” philosophy.
- Cash IS King: Over the years, since Apple has re-emerged, it did things different. It stayed lean when other global companies got bloated; it protected its margins with innovation and more than anything else it kept its wallet fat with cash rather than debt and equity. For so many businesses, resources (cash or other) are often the missing piece in rapid adaptation and transformation. It never hurts to put aside such resources to be able to jump on a great opportunity or absorb a tough period.
- Cost ISN’T King: I hear sales people in every industry complain that price is the reason that they can’t, don’t or won’t succeed. If you and your competitors are identical, this is probably the case. However, nearly all businesses have inherently different value propositions (although not always well defined). Apple has set the price in the market for its products, no matter how much cheaper other laptops, MP3 players or tablets are.
- Re-Invent: Apple has changed with the times and adapted to each trend — personal computing, laptops, mobile content, mobile phones and the cloud. With business changing at warp speed, I am sometimes surprised how little some organizations change each year.
- Be Passionate: With every new product launch and every success you could feel how passionate Jobs was. He wasn’t the most charismatic person, but when he was done speaking you wanted to buy whatever he was selling. It is too common that I meet business owners and executives that leave me yearning for more. If we believe what we do makes a difference, we need our customers to know it .