As the leader of Apple for thirty years, Steve Jobs revolutionized the world of technology. With his strong personality and his intense devotion to principles like simplicity and ease of use, he made complex technology like personal computers and cell phones seem approachable and everyday for all customers, not just nerds and geeks.
Perhaps the greatest piece of Steve Jobs' legacy, however, is the way he inspired a generation of young entrepreneurs to approach entrepreneurship, sales, and design, in different, innovative ways.
In Entrepreneur, communication coach, speaker, and author Carmine Gallo wrote about the beauty of the Apple Store, and how it revolutionized the customer's shopping experience.
Instead of copying other electronics stores, the team visited The Ritz-Carlton hotel for inspiration. What they learned became the foundation for the store.
Steve Jobs pushed entrepreneurs to look outside of the narrow confines of their own industries in order to find good answers. When something wasn't working, he encouraged his employees to consider bigger solutions, to "dream bigger." He rarely moved in the safe direction, instead choosing to rewrite and reformat the industry to solve the problems he perceived. It can be argued that smartphones never would have become a household item without the popularity and simplicity of an iPhone.
Walter Isaacson, author of the Steve Jobs biography that remained on best seller lists more than a year after his passing, wrote in the Harvard Business Review that many entrepreneurs drew lessons from the biography, but that he felt that many of them missed the point.
The essence of Jobs, I think, is that his personality was integral to his way of doing business. He acted as if the normal rules didn't apply to him, and the passion, intensity, and extreme emotionalism he brought to everyday life were things he also poured into the products he made. His petulance and impatience were part and parcel of his perfectionism.
A great deal has been written about how Steve Jobs treated his employees, often in ways that seem harsh and inappropriate to the outside observer. When questioned whether his treatment was abusive, Isaacson reports that Jobs responded by saying if his employees felt that they were being abused, they'd leave.
That said, as Eric Jackson says in Forbes, over his life, Jobs became a better manager of people. He never tolerated what Jackson calls "bozos," the people who have little to contribute to a company and drag it down. After he was ousted from Apple, and later returned, he seemed to have a deeper understanding of how he needed other people around him who were also excellent at their jobs.
Jackson also talks about appreciating both the product and its packaging, calling it both the steak and the sizzle. Many companies have complained that Apple focuses too much on presentation, and that if customers would just try their products, they'd see that they're much better than Apple's. The companies that are succeeding alongside Apple are instead taking a lesson from Apple. They are learning to build products with a sharp focus, appreciating the AH factor, and understanding that the customer needs to be impressed at every step of the process.
Jobs also defined a different era of business organization. To understand how he's influenced this segment of our culture, you need to remember that the largest tech company when he first joined Macintosh in the early 80s was IBM. Nicknamed Big Blue, IBM and its "legions of company men came to define the American corporate establishment in midcentury," according to The Boston Globe.
In part because of Jobs' personality, where he brooked absolutely no argument once he determined the way something was done, Apple became a much more streamlined company, and other tech companies have continued to follow suit. The way was paved for the hyper-lean model of the tech startup, and perhaps even for the modern "gig economy," where freelancers market their services to those who can afford to pay for them, instead of being tied to one particular company for forty years.
Many of the entrepreneurs who found Jobs inspirational refer to his commencement speech at Stanford in 2005. Like Scott Davis, they found Jobs' message that one must find inspiration in a variety of sources incredibly meaningful.
When we start talking about the lessons entrepreneurs have learned from Steve Jobs, too often we focus on his personality quirks. We might think that we need to only wear two items of clothing, or berate our employees when they don't live up to our sky-high standards, or that we'll be utterly unable to succeed in business unless we can see the link between calligraphy and the modern computing interface.
In fact, there are much more interesting lessons that young entrepreneurs can learn from Steve Jobs. Ultimately, Jobs was driven by his passions, and unwilling to give his company anything less than his very best. Whatever he chose to do, he did it with laser focus that ultimately spelled his company's success, and his own failing health, as he refused to listen to his doctors about the seriousness of his cancer until it was too late to treat with modern medicine.
And, as some have suggested, perhaps this is the most important inspiration that Jobs can offer to modern, young entrepreneurs. The work is important, but so is health. Neglecting one in service of the other isn't a strategy that will work for long.
What about Steve Jobs' long and fascinating career was inspirational for you?