What we learned from the genius of Steve Jobs

The great poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Nothing is more simple than greatness; indeed to be simple is to be great.”Indeed, I was reminded of those words when I thought about the passing of Steve Jobs, yet I was compelled to consider other words of wisdom as well.”Any color, so long as it’s black” was uttered by Henry Ford about his Model T. John Lennon, once said, “The more I see, the less I know for sure.” It may seem strange enough that Jobs can be compared to Ford and Lennon, but what all three leaders knew and practiced was simplicity.In engineering, business and leadership, there are two approaches. Provide your audience with a universe of possibilities and let them choose, or choose for them based on what research they desire. Jobs and his historical peers knew that designing great products that people would like, use and feel an emotional connection to will create a product culture.Not everyone in 1920 drove a Model T, nor did everyone love John Lennon. Even today, many people could care less about Apple. However, those who do care, care a lot. They believe that Apple cares about them and acts on their behalf. One reason for this is that Jobs embodied and created a culture that fostered loyalty and passion. He made it possible for Apple fans (not just customers) to understand Apple products completely because he designed products that are simple to use, embody an experience, look cool and provide identity to the user.Steve Jobs also intuitively knew what would work because he was the consumer. Does it make sense to have the iPad be yet another computer with complete functionality? No. Other tabulate PCs failed. It made sense that the iPad, a product that could arguably compete with other Apple products, be simple and fun, useful and cool. Jobs and his designers made something that was technically simple (because consumers aren’t engineers) and something that the designers would use.This is no trivial matter because what Jobs did better than everyone else was highlight that computers could be a natural extension of the human experience. He moved it from a strange, sterile box that could be used as a work station to something that extends the individual.Capture the cultureJeremy Hitchcock of Dyn Inc. shared his perspective with me about Jobs’ impact over the last 35 years. After some discussion, Jeremy asked me what impact the use of language had on human productivity. A sizable impact indeed. What then is the influence of creating devices that most people want to use as an extension of language?Jobs may not have invented everything or had the entire market share. But there is no doubt that his work, ideas and passion had an impact on an industry that affects us all. Ford advanced the consumption of the automobile. Lennon advanced rock and roll and popular culture. Jobs advanced both the consumer culture and how extraordinary companies evolve and change.The primary takeaway for me is the world has profoundly changed because a leader understood the importance of corporate and consumer culture, and followed a passion that put the mission first, simply and clearly, before all other concerns.Inside Apple, there has been an effort to document and capture the culture they have developed to have Steve Jobs’ way of thinking and leading infused forever in their culture. Apple knows what they just lost, and will attempt to extend Jobs’ brand not just in marketing, but in the DNA of the company. It’s that important.Another takeaway is that the Steve Jobs experience, while extraordinary, was also ordinary. This guy never finished college, failed many times and was always in a common search for meaning, much like any of us. Perhaps the only difference is that he followed what he knew to be right for him.Under the direction of Dr. Russ Ouellette, managing partner of Sojourn Partners, Bedford, The Future of Everything Project brings together panels of thought leaders from diverse backgrounds to brainstorm, collaborate and proactively craft a vision of “what can be.” The project participant on this topic was Jeremy Hitchcock of Dyn Inc. Ouellette can be reached at 603-472-8103 or russ@sojournpartners.com.