Top 10 things Steve Jobs taught us

The Apple co-founder is being remembered as a visionary pioneer of the computer industry who leaves an indelible mark on popular culture. Also: Video on Jobs' legacy.

By MSN Money Partner Oct 6, 2011 3:52PM

By Eric Jackson, Forbes.com 

 

Steve Jobs was irreplaceable. We'll never see anyone like him. He has left an indelible mark on our society for the past 35 years and will continue to do so for years to come.

 

Yet, he also taught us that he was just a man. He got up every day, like you and me. He kissed his family goodbye and threw his heart and soul into his work -- his passion -- just as we can. We all can be great. If we try, we'll honor him.

 

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Here are the top 10 lessons Jobs taught us:

 

1.The most enduring innovations marry art and science.

Jobs always pointed out that the biggest difference between Apple (AAPL) and other computer companies is that Apple consistently tried to marry art and science. The original team working on the Mac had backgrounds in anthropology, art, history and poetry. That's always been important in making Apple's products stand out.

 

The difference between the iPad and every other tablet computer is the look and feel of the product. It is its soul. But it is a difficult thing for computer scientists or engineers to see that importance, so a company must have a leader who sees it.

 

2. You can't create the future through focus groups.

There is a school of thought in management theory that holds that if you're in the consumer-facing space, building products and services, you've got to listen to your customer. Jobs was one of the first businessmen to see that as a waste of time.

 

Customers don't always know what they want, especially when a product or service is something they've never seen, heard or touched.


When it became clear that Apple would come out with a tablet, many were skeptical. When people heard the name (iPad), it was a joke in the Twitter-sphere for a day. But when people held one, and used it, it became a "must have." They didn't know how they'd previously lived without one.

 

The iPad is the fastest growing product in Apple's history. Jobs trusted himself more than others. Picasso and great artists have done that for centuries. Jobs was the first in business.

 

3. Never fear failure.

Jobs was fired by the successor he picked to run Apple. It was one of the most public embarrassments of the past 30 years in business. Yet Jobs picked himself up and got back to work, following his passion.

 

Eight years ago, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and told he had only a few weeks to live. As Samuel Johnson said, there's nothing like your impending death to focus the mind. From Jobs' 2005 Stanford commencement speech:

 

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

 

Jobs' message was that time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

 

4. You can't connect the dots forward -- only backward.

This is another gem from the 2005 Stanford speech. The idea is that, as much as we try to plan ahead, there's always something completely unpredictable about life.

 

What seems like bitter anguish and defeat in the moment -- getting dumped by a girlfriend, not getting that job at McKinsey, "wasting" four years of life on a startup that didn't pan out -- can sow the seeds of unimaginable success. You can't be too attached to how you think your life is supposed to work out.


Again, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something -- your gut, destiny, life, karma. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

 

5. Listen to that voice in your head telling you whether you're on the right track.

Most of us don't hear a voice inside our heads. We simply decide we're going to work in finance or be a doctor because that's what our parents told us we should do or because we want to make a lot of money. When we make that decision, we snuff out that little voice in our heads.

 

From then on, most of us put it on automatic pilot. You have met these people. They're nice people. But they're not changing the world.

Jobs always had a restless soul. A man in a hurry. A man with a plan. His plan isn't for everyone. It was his plan. He wanted to build computers. Some people have a voice that tells them to fight for democracy. Others have one that tells them to become an expert in miniature spoons.

 

When Jobs first saw an example of a graphical user interface -- a GUI -- he knew this was the future of computing. He brought it to life in the Macintosh.


Whatever your voice is telling you, you would be smart to listen to it. Even if it tells you to quit your job, or move to China or leave your partner.

 

6. Expect a lot from yourself and others.

We have heard stories of Jobs yelling at or dressing down staff. He was a control freak,  a perfectionist. The bottom line is that he was in touch with his passion and that little voice in the back of his head. He gave a damn. He wanted the best from himself and everyone who worked for him. If they didn't give a damn, he didn't want them around.

 

And yet, he kept attracting amazing talent. Why? Because talent gives a damn too. There's a saying: if you're a "B" player you'll hire "C" players because you don't want them to look smarter than you. If you're an "A" player, you'll hire "A+" players below you, because you want the best result.

 

7. Don't care about being right. Care about succeeding.

Jobs used this line in an interview after he was fired by Apple. If you have to steal others' great ideas to make yours better, do it. You can't be married to your vision of how a product is going to work out, such that you forget about current reality.

 

When the Apple III came out, it was hot and warped its motherboard even though Jobs had insisted it would be quiet and sleek. If Jobs had stuck with Lisa, Apple would have never developed the Mac.

 

8. Find the most talented people and surround yourself with them.

There is a misconception that Apple was Steve Jobs. Everyone else in the company was a faceless minion working to please the all-seeing and all-knowing Jobs. In reality, Jobs had surrounded himself with talent. Phil Schiller, Jony Ive, Peter Oppenheimer, Tim Cook and former head of stores Ron Johnson are all supertalented people who don't get the credit they deserve.

 

The fact that Apple's stock price has been so strong since Jobs left as chief executive is a credit to the strength of the team.

Jobs had hired bad managerial talent before. John Sculley ended up firing Jobs and, according to Jobs, almost killing the company. Give credit to Jobs for learning from this mistake and realizing that he couldn't do anything without great talent around him.

 

9.Stay hungry, stay foolish.

Again, from the end of Jobs' memorable Stanford speech:

 

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called "The Whole Earth Catalog," which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors and Polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

 

Stewart and his team put out several issues of "The Whole Earth Catalog," and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay hungry. Stay foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

 

10. Anything is possible through hard work, determination and a sense of vision.

Although he was the greatest CEO ever and the father of the modern computer, at the end of the day, Steve Jobs was just a guy. He was a husband, a father, a friend.

 

We can be just as special as he was if we learn his lessons and start applying them in our lives.


When Jobs returned to Apple in the 1990s, the company was weeks away from bankruptcy. It's now the biggest company in the world.

Anything's possible in life if you continue to follow the simple lessons laid out above.

 

May you change the world.

 

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