Steve Jobs – The Innovator!

Dear reader,

The death of Steve Jobs means an enormous loss. Nobody was better than Steve Jobs in coming up with concrete innovations which the consumers at large truly appreciated.
Mr. Jobs’ ability to come up with new approaches that met practical needs was fantastic. His track record was impeccable!

Steve Jobs, Lorange Insitute of Business
For us who are active in the field of strategic management it is important to learn from Steve Jobs’ example: Creativity and innovation are key – no effective strategy can work without this. Here at the Lorange Institute of Business Zurich these challenges are on the top of our agenda!

Our faculty member, Bill Holstein, states in his article, that, most of all, Steve Jobs was a collaborator .

Kind rergards,
Peter Lorange


Steve Jobs

by William K. Holstein *)

What are we to think about the death of Steve Jobs? We are being inundated by interpretations of his life and impact on technology in newspapers and on TV and in business and technology magazines, blogs, websites, portals, etc., etc. – and the deluge will certainly continue for a while. So what are we to make of all of it?

Quite a bit actually; we can learn a lot not from what he said, but from what he did.

Steve was a very private person. He didn’t give a lot of speeches or interviews, and didn’t write much, although millions of trees have been sacrificed to create books and articles about him and his ideas. Excerpts from a graduation speech that he gave at Stanford several years ago have been played ad-nauseam since his death, implying that it is one of few tapes available with him doing anything but presenting new, insanely great products.

Steve Jobs presentingSteve Jobs presenting in 2007

According to a survey on the website [], when asked about Jobs’ strengths, 47.8% of respondents said he was a great businessman, 64% said he was a great creative mind, and 91% of respondents said that Steve Jobs changed the world with his work and his ideas. I can certainly agree with all three of those characterizations. 39.5% said he was an all-around genius – I probably even agree with that.

But what did he do? There are a lot of geniuses who don’t really DO much. In the same survey, 49.8% said he was a great inventor. Did he really ‘invent’ the Apple computer, the Mac, and the whole string of ‘i’ devices; iMac, iPod, iPhone, iCloud? If by ‘invent’ we mean devises some new process, appliance, machine, or article, then certainly Steve Jobs did not sit at a bench and create those products himself.

Even if he didn’t invent anything, Steve Jobs had a keen eye for design and for the customer [see my previous blog on the importance of the customer]. He understood technology well enough to know what was possible if he pressed his staff hard enough, and he understood customers well enough to get his designers to create products that would get Apple customers to say “WOW!” on a regular schedule. One blogger said they weren’t customers, they were iFans. Customers don’t leave cards like the one shown below at a place of business – fans do.

At a Munich Apple Store, a card was left reading 'Many Thanks, Steve.'At a Munich Apple Store, a card was left reading ‘Many Thanks, Steve.’

Jobs’s influence was exerted primarily through two channels: first, strong guidance and leadership on the choice of product development projects that Apple would pursue and, by default, those that they would not pursue; and second, a rigorously executed, ‘up close and personal’ review of the progress of products under development. More often than not, his standards (read his understanding of what technology could do and his interpretation of what the customer would want) caused him to reject many prototypes presented in the development process as inadequate. He was all about perfection. Nothing left the factory until it met his standards — not just good, not just excellent. Perfect. Products that went through that process didn’t always succeed, but far more often than not they did. And the process was continuous; updated and improved products appeared regularly, as we see recently with the iPad 2 and the iPhone 4S. The latter exceeded all previous iPhones in first day pre-orders the day before his death.

Despite the fact that his ‘keep things simple’ mantra led him to interact with fewer than a dozen people at Apple on a regular basis, he managed to drive his vision and his expectations throughout the Apple organization. One former employee said he constantly considered Mr. Jobs’s preferences despite having never met the man.

His influence went beyond the development of the products that he was so adept at introducing. A recent quote suggests that “Apple has taught the world that you need an ecosystem in order to compete” – it was Steve Jobs who did the teaching. The ecosystem was the development of iTunes that provided the music, video and application content; the fuel for the steady stream of hardware achievements from Apple. Jobs ability to lock content providers into the iTunes model, while not an invention per se, was certainly an industry-changing innovation.

He not only kept an eye on the customer and on technology, but also on the future. For years before he died, he worked closely with the board and senior management to shape a long-range road map for Apple. The company knows where it is going, how the trip will be executed and, further, who will execute it. That, more than iAnything, is Steve Jobs biggest legacy.

Perhaps his other big legacy is the development and nurturing of an industrial design team second to none in the technology world. Apple’s industrial design chief, an Englishman named Jonathan Ives, has headed the team for 15 years – an amazing run in a world where designers are often fickle and highly transient. Many of the innovations from the Mac and the series of i products sprung from Ives and his group. Steve Jobs was famously difficult to get along with, but he built design and management teams that are the envy of Silicon Valley. Just imagine what H-P could have done with a team like that!

So what can we learn from Steve Jobs? Of course that focusing on the customer is important – not just to give them what they expect, but to “think differently,” to surprise them with things that work differently in most pleasant and appealing ways. Of course representing your company, being the ‘face’ of the company, is important as well. Jobs limited his public exposure almost exclusively to new product introductions at which the presentations, as well as the products, were ‘insanely great.’

But most of all, Steve Jobs was a collaborator. He created, cultivated and managed a collaborative environment that encouraged the best in every employee. He managed a huge organization that could maintain secrets and spring surprises on a regular schedule. He imposed a strong sense of quality design and superior functionality on the whole organization. The string of products that he introduced are testimony to the effectiveness of that effort.

In the Strategy Block I am teaching in the Executive MBA programm, I have argued for more than a decade that the next frontier in productivity will be in white collar productivity. Looking around the classroom at the Lorange Institute of Business, I have often said that we, those of us in the room, white collar workers all, will have to be responsible for the next wave of productivity improvement. Blue collar workers have done their share; we have automated just about all of them out of existence that can possible be automated. Our responsibility now calls for new levels of cooperation and collaboration throughout the organization.

Jack Welch called it the ‘Boundaryless Organization’ in which managers from different silos communicate and collaborate. Steve Jobs understood this. He knew that collaboration among white-collar workers is a principal driver of creativity, innovation and, therefore, competitive advantage – and he managed it extremely well.

What will you do to enhance collaboration in your part of the organization?

*) Dr. William K. Holstein

The former assistant at Harvard who earned his PhD in mathematical economics was (among many other teaching activities ) visiting professor at IMD.

Today, he has been an associate Partner at Crystal Partners AG, Zürich since 2008 and Senior Advisor at Lat Link-Partnership in Change Consultancy, Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is the author of three books on Information Technology, BASIC programming, Operations Management. One of his recent publications include ‘Efficient and Effective Strategy Implementation’.


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