(This blog originally appeared on August 31, 2011. Jobs passed away five weeks later. This is reposted on the occasion of his birthday--February 24. There is much to admire as well as regret about his life, but his influence on our culture is undeniable.)
Unless you have been on a mission trip to Mongolia or experiencing power failures from hurricanes, earthquakes, or tornadoes, you have heard that Steve Jobs has resigned as CEO of Apple due to health issues. Many articles extol his virtues as a visionary and speculate on the future of one of the world’s richest companies with his leadership. There will undoubtedly be a new round of books on “The Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs.”
I am a late convert to the Apple faith. I began to give in a bit when I purchased an iPod several years ago and enjoyed its flexibility and portability. The iPad may have pushed me over the edge. A generous donor recently provided the funds to purchase iPads for Central Seminary faculty, and I am afraid that I have become an enthusiast. I would not be surprised if an iPhone is not in my immediate future and even an Apple computer somewhere down the road.
But back to the wizard of Apple. Steve Jobs is a unique individual. Many seek to learn from him, but most of us do not have the emotional or psychological makeup to be him. By most accounts, Jobs can be mean, abusive, driven, and irrational—typical words associated with genius along with creative and innovative. If you have the patience to put up with some one with these characteristics, you will reap great rewards but most of us would rather observe at a distance. I do think that there are some things we can learn from Jobs.
First, recognize when someone else has a good idea and run with it. Jobs and Apple did not create the computer mouse, pod casting, or the touch screen but they recognized their value and integrated these innovations into their products. Just because we didn’t create something doesn’t mean we can’t adopt it or adapt it for our situation.
Second, hire good people. Although he could be alternatively critical and complimentary, Jobs found good people for his team and challenged them to be better. We might not adopt the extreme measures that he used, but we can surround ourselves with good folks, listen to them, and encourage them to do good work.
Third, trust your gut feelings. Jobs typically eschewed market research and focus groups and gave the public what he thought they needed. And it worked (most of the time)! Apple has had great successes, but it has also experienced its flops. Sometimes we do need to go with our instincts, but we must be prepared to fail with grace when something does not work
Fourth, don’t be afraid to let go of a success to move to on to something better. The iPhone killed the iPod for all practical purposes. The iPod became an application for the iPhone and the iPad. Although iPods are still on the market, but they certainly don’t sell like they once did. Jobs saw something better and moved on even if it meant wounding a profitable product. Letting go of the familiar and reaching out to the unknown is a real test of leadership.
Will there be another Steve Jobs? Probably not. But one certainly shook things up for the rest of us.