Steve Jobs—Innovator Extraordinaire

2011 January 25
by david

steve-jobs-3g-iphone1It’s impossible to say anything new about Apple and Steve Jobs but I couldn’t resist adding some comments when I read a recent article about him in the NY Times. Jobs was asked what market research Apple had done as they developed the iPad. “None,” he replied. “It isn’t the consumers’ job to know what they want.”

From any other consumer marketing executive in the world this would have come across as laughable hubris and cause for an emergency board meeting to discuss the mental state of the CEO. Can you imagine the CEO of GM saying that? Why is Jobs so different?

Reputation

Jobs has launched his share of failures−Apple TV, the Newton, etc—but has almost 40 years of unparalleled success as a game-changer. His success gives him enormous credibility within Apple and in the technology world. He’s a rock star; his products have ineffable and irresistible cachet. His announcements are anticipated and watched by the whole world. Even a sub-standard product like Apple TV (the first version) sells millions of units. And he’s not resting on his laurels—despite taking a second medical leave of absence—he’s one driven dude.

The Founder Pass

Founders of successful companies are held to a different standard, often deservedly. They’re allowed to be unconventional. By contrast, think of Eric Schmidt, the recently deposed CEO of Google. He was brought in to be adult supervision and had to adhere to a higher standard of behavior  than Bryn and Page.

Product First

Jobs is surrounded by talented, driven people who are not yes-men but he exerts extraordinary control over the decision-making at Apple. And he is relentless in his pursuit of design perfection. He is detail oriented and obsessive. He rejected two iPhone prototypes and sent the team back to the drawing board both times. Were their feelings hurt? Did they go back to their department muttering imprecations about the tyrant? No doubt. And both of the rejected designs would have been a major improvement over any phone then available but they weren’t good enough for Jobs. Would you have had the balls to send them away—twice?

young jobsDesign Genius

From the first Macintosh on, Jobs has shown that he CAN build better products for users than they could have imagined themselves. I fell in love with the first Mac. And never looked back. Along with tens of millions of others. Actually he is a design AND a marketing genius.Who doesn’t remember the first Mac ads? How about the iPod campaign?

Apple is a technology company

Technology is based on what the Times article calls “around-the-corner innovation” and thus, by definition, users can’t define what they want because you’re offering them something totally new. In more mature industries progress is incremental and you can find out what consumer needs aren’t being met or could be better satisfied by doing research. Not so when you’re offering something that is totally new.

I wish Steve Jobs well as he deals with his health issues. I don’t care what anyone says about succession plans, creating a sustainable culture, etc., the company won’t be the same without him. He’s one of a kind.

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