Leadership lessons of Steve Jobs pts 4 & 5

Steve Jobs leadership lessons 4&5. Staying ahead of the competition and putting product first.

4. ‘When behind, leapfrog’.

Jobs and his products have not always been invincible, there came a realisation one day that iMac was quite far behind when it came to music – downloading, managing and burning CDs. Everyone else was doing it better so Jobs went to the drawing board to find a solution. The solution came in the form of a combination of products, namely iTunes, iTunes store and the iPod, which between them allowed burning, sharing, managing, storing and playing music better than any other device.

Jobs did not sit on his laurels at this either, his next big concern was what could endanger this, what could the competition themselves do next to leapfrog this solution?  The clear answer to this was migrating a management system from the PC to a mobile handset; why not develop a phone that would enable music management alongside making calls, sending emails and surfing the internet? And so was born the iPhone, serving a purpose to combating Jobs’ concern of ‘if we don’t cannibalise ourselves, someone else will’.

So where does the leadership come in? Firstly I guess it is about parking pride and being totally honest with ourselves in terms of where our strengths and weaknesses lie. Where are we vulnerable and what are the gaps that need to be filled? Secondly that sense of focus and energy, always looking ahead and striving to achieve the bigger, long term vision, in this case it was about being better and more beautiful than any other product out there.

5. ‘Put products before profits’.

In the short term this belief of Jobs lead to his ousting from Apple, his maxim being ‘don’t compromise’. The most important thing was to specify the computer’s abilities at whatever it cost to do that, price should not be a worry. Mackintosh in the end cost too much at both ends. However what it did do was a put ‘a dent in the universe’ and accelerated the home computer revolution, but as with any short term gloom, the impact of the Mackintosh was not to be seen until further down the time line.

With Jobs departure there was a change of tack in the form of John Scully whose career pedigree had come with ten years experience in sales and marketing for Pepsi, Scully was about profit maximisation rather than design. This looked like making the screws and rivets a little less beautiful and expensive (amongst other things) and hoping the loyal Apple consumers would not notice so much. As ever with any loyal customer who has enjoyed and expects a certain standard, they did notice and with this focus away from design to cost cutting, the sales began to slide.

Eventually the executives came back to Jobs cap in hand, they needed him back for his vision and detail in putting the beauty back into the Apple portfolio and when he did, Jobs put the spotlight straight back on innovation. He had to re-motivate his R&D team as well. Understandably they were in the doldrums since he left, their skills as innovators and creators downgraded somewhat when the products no longer mattered as much and these were the guys who disengaged first when Jobs left the business. His renewed passion therefore was to re-create a company where people were once again motivated to make great products, everything else was secondary.

There’s that focus again, an integral part of leadership. Jobs was aligned to his passion and vision of just making great products. That was it, simples – everything else was secondary, including the money and profits.

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