I recently finished the Steve Jobs biography and have had some time to reflect on what marketers can learn from his time at Apple. He took over a company on the verge of irrelevance and built it into the most valuable brand in the world according to a recent study. Here are some key lessons from his time as CEO:
1. Don’t set up artificial divisions and multiple P&Ls because it creates walls and competing agendas. Apple smoked Sony in the music business because Sony could not get their entertainment business to work with their consumer electronics division. Internal walls stifle creativity and synergy while generating conflict.
2. Keep decision making groups small and nimble and never manage by committee. There is a reason no one ever built a monument to a committee. Empower people to make decisions swiftly and keep debate and consensus building to a minimum. Key product feature decision for the iPod and iPhone were made by a small group who trusted their instincts.
3. Encourage smart risk taking, nothing great ever came from putting off a decision. It is ok to fail on occasion. Failure builds character and you’ll learn something valuable in the process. Unless you work in public safety or healthcare a mistake will not be fatal, so go for it.
4. View everything from your customer’s point of view. It’s about them, not you. At the same time, don’t over rely on market research; it is only a data point. Research tells you more about the past than the future.
5. Keep it simple, and once you have, simplify some more. This is especially true for designing a user experience. Work towards the least amount of screens, menu items, buttons, switches etc. If something is overly complex it usually means it was not well thought out.
6. You don’t have to be first, just be the best. Apple did not invent the PC, portable music player, Smartphone or tablet. They made each one better by making them easy to use and accessible
7. Challenge the status quo by pushing for new solutions. There is a great anecdote in the book about how Jobs pushed Corning to compress the production schedule for “Gorilla Glass” for the iPhone. He never took no for an answer and if a solution didn’t exist, he’d make one happen by sheer force of personality.
8. Build a team of A players, and work with best partners possible. This seems obvious, but how many companies and/or marketing departments are stocked with B and C players? If you want to accomplish great things, you need great people. While Steve Jobs get much of the glory, he surrounded himself with brilliant people from every discipline – design, software development, marketing, manufacturing, sourcing etc. Good thing happen when talented people work together as a team.
9. Keep PowerPoint use at a minimum. Jobs hated when people brought out a slide deck in a meeting, he felt it was a sign that they didn’t have mastery of the topic. The format makes people think in bullet points and headlines and stifles creativity. Powerpoint can be a great tool for presenting to a large group, but is a snoozer in an internal meeting.
10. Design matters to consumers and can be a powerful differentiator. Even the packaging from Apple feels cool and sexy. How many other companies put that kind of effort into a box? Every detail of the consumer experience is an opportunity to impress and build a relationship. Consumers don’t stand outside a retail store all night for the latest Motorola or Samsung phone, but they do for the iPhone.
In the spirit of keeping it simple I can describe the secret of his success to one thing – Think Different.