Saddened to learn that Steve Jobs died yesterday at such a young age (he was 56) I immediately started writing this post. It’s a tribute to an iconic man who has strongly influenced my thinking on innovation and entrepreneurship. Before I start I would like to give some personal context to the list I’m going to share with you.
Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 and due to his return the (second) rise of Apple began. His return was around the same time I started my career. In the early days I was intrigued by how Apple designed computers in a different, more fun and stylish, way. But it wasn’t until the iPod with its easy to use scrolling wheel and (later on) the iTunes store, which gave the music industry a new business model for the 21st century, that my interest really started to grow. At that time I was already working for Philips Research for multiple years, mostly developing new technologies and application to make handling of digital media easier for consumers.
Having mostly worked in a high-tech environment, which wasn’t always successful in making innovations a success on the market, I realized that innovation is much more then developing new technology. So over these years, I got increasingly interested in the question: ‘how to develop and market new products and services that are truly successful in the market?’ Steve Jobs and the innovations he, together with the rest of Apple, envisioned and made such a huge success in the market have really helped me to get answers to this question or helped validate what I’ve learned through other experiences.
This list could have been much longer, but I decided to narrow it to the few items that immediately came to mind.
Have a vision
Innovation starts with a vision. Without a vision of what we need, why we need it and how, you don’t have a global direction to drive your innovation development forward and to make the right decisions what to do and what not to do. Without a vision you can’t explain the reasoning why you are creating what you want to create, you can’t inspire others to help you out and provide meaningful insight and knowledge.
If there is one man who drives innovation forward through vision it is Steve Jobs. In the video below he talks about the importance of vision and the importance of customer experience in it, which is also an item on this list.
You will be surprised how many companies are not led through a coherent vision (and mission), where people working in these companies are not aware (enough) of a vision top management sets out, or simply don’t share the same vision. This is a big innovation showstopper, especially in the long term.
Presentation & communication
Whether you want to involve others to help you realize an innovation or you want to launch your new product or service in the market, you need to be able present and communicate your ideas, your vision, your product in a persuasive way.
The story should be simple, concise and it needs to be presented with passion. If you can’t bring out the enthusiasm in others for what you want to make or want to sell, you’re in trouble.
There are very few speakers whom I’ve heard that can present as well as Steve Jobs. I love his 2007 keynote where he announces the first iPhone (direct link to video).
It’s about the end-user experience
In the end products and services are about the experience it provides to the user. This even goes beyond having a good feature set or a great ease of use: it’s about the emotions it elicits in us and how it connects to deeper aspirations we all have in life.
To be fair, many companies already try to have a focus on user experience. At the same time many don’t really succeed in creating a great user experience. In the first video in this post Jobs explains the importance to start with the customer experience and work your way backwards to end up at technology requirements. In the next item (identity) I embedded a video of Steve Jobs explaining this from a brand perspective.
Having an engineering background this is not the first thing that came to me in the past when thinking about what makes innovation successful, but it is actually a very important topic. Without an outspoken identity, expressed through your products and through your communications with the outside world people can’t identify themselves with you and the products you want to bring to market.
Apple, with Steve Jobs at the helm, made very clear choices about what Apple stands for (‘People with passion can change the world for the better’, Think Different Campaign, 1997, see video below). What the overall ‘feeling’ is people should have using Apple products. What properties their products should have and what strategies to follow. For instance, it was chosen to create a closed system to ensure user experience, their business model and the business model for their (media) partners. You either like it or you don’t. Simplicity and user-experience were, as far as I know, always favored over more features and application scenarios. You either like it or you don’t. Apple favored a minimalistic design… You either like it or you don’t.
On a side note, this is why I think the Windows Phone OS could have a chance in the market. Its tile-based interface is so distinct; it gives identity to the phone. Ha! I guess you didn’t expect this here!
Below a great video in which Jobs talks about the Apple brand, its identity.
Innovation needs a multi-disciplinary & holistic approach
When you think about the reasons why the iPhone is such a successful product you will find that there is not one answer, there are multiple answers from different perspective. Is it the multi-touch user interaction? Is it because the iPhone is also a platform, giving room for others to innovate on top of it, through apps. Is it the iTunes and app store business model? Is it because they bought flash memory and other electronic components in huge bulks to keep the pricing low? Is it the marketing and hype created around the device? Is it because Apple has its own sales outlets, the Apple stores? I could go on for a while here.
The end conclusion is that all these aspects, routed in different disciplines matter. Even further, these different aspects build upon each other creating a ‘holistic whole’ that is the iPhone.
This insight has real consequences for how to develop new products and services: innovation development needs multidisciplinary teams, even in the earliest stages. It should continuously cycle through all the different aspects. Think design, marketing, business strategy, technology, value chain management, sales outlets, etc..
Innovation should not be completely user driven
It’s important to listen to users and learn from their feedback to improve your product. But in recent years I came to the conclusion that not everything in innovation development should be user-driven. You might try to get deep insights in to fundamental needs and aspirations of consumers and use that as inspiration for new meaningful products, but consumer won’t be able to tell you if these are the products they really want.
You, as the innovator, should have the vision of what the future needs will be and what means there will be available to create solutions that satisfies does needs. Apple showed that this is a strategy that works; start with your own vision and iteratively improve your product later on through feedback in the market.
“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
– BusinessWeek, May 25 1998
Found on wired.com in a post published in 2006, ‘Steve Jobs’ Best Quotes Ever’.
Persistence & passion
Innovation is a tough game; there is no easy win. It needs a lot of persistence to fight your way through all the barriers you will encounter. The only way to do this is if you are passionate about what you want to achieve and if you are able to affect others with your passion.
Persistence and passion are at the core of Jobs’ personality in my humble opinion. Just consider his presentation, the Think Different campaign and his persistence to chase and realize his vision.
There is much more to learn from how Steve Jobs made innovation successful throughout his career. For instance, when it comes to the importance of focus, detail and timely execution, nurturing a start-up culture and seizing opportunities in a changing world instead of protecting old business models.
To put it in US president Obama’s words, with the passing away of Steve Jobs we lost a man that was “brave enough to think differently, bold enough to believe he could change the world, and talented enough to do it”. But be assured, we will still be talking about Steve Jobs, his achievements and what we can learn from it long after this day.
– Freddy Snijder