What I’ve learned from Steve Jobs: Execution

We all get excited when we hear world leaders saying they’ve done ‘this’ or ‘that’. We often think that he or she acted alone and because of a magical power, vision, special ability or demi-god skill they accomplished the impossible, earning fame and fortune in the process.

Some of us who are a little more diligent may be compelled to prove if this is in fact true and if it’s possible to “do it all on your own”.

Turns out, it’s not possible. If you dig enough you will find that every leader had his fair share of heroes, mentors, spouse, coaches, suppliers, friends, family, advisors and business partners. It cannot be otherwise.

Steve Jobs was no exception to having people that inspired him and helped him along the way. He didn’t do it alone.

Before getting to some of Jobs’ success stories in Execution, in addition to Steve Wozniak, Apple’s co-founder I’d like to show the spotlight on at least two people that helped Jobs get to where he got.
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Walter Isaacson’s book talks about Mike Markkula. Markkula was a father figure for Jobs and offered Jobs his first line of credit of $250,000 USD in exchange of a one third equity participant. Markkula who made his millions at 32 years old from his Fairchild and Intel stock options when they went public would be involved for the next 20 years with Apple.

The most fascinating passage is when Markkula explained to Jobs his principles. At the outset, Markkula emphasized that:

“You should never start a company with the goal of getting rich. Your goal should be making something you believe in and a company that will last”. 

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Markkula had 3 principles that he wanted to have as its Apple Marketing Philosophy. They consisted of:

1. Empathy: An intimate connection with the feelings of a customer: ‘We will truly understand the needs better than another company’.

2. Focus: ‘In order to do a good job of those things that we decide to do, we must eliminate all of the unimportant opportunities’.

3. Impute: It emphasized that people form an opinion about a company or product based on the signals that it conveys. ‘People do judge a book by its cover… we may have the best product, the highest quality, the most useful software; if we present them in a slipshod manner they will perceive as slipshod; if we present them in a creative, professional manner we will Impute the desired qualities.’ ”

From that point Jobs took those principles and flew with them. They became the cornerstone of Apple’s Philosophy.

These principles would guide him much later as well. After Apple had bought Jobs‘s company called Next, Jobs came back to Apple and he remembered Markkula’s principles as he proceeded to streamline operations, he fired 3.000 people and he ensured that Apple avoided bankruptcy. Jobs instructed the team to get back to the basics of great products, great marketing and great distribution since Apple had drifted.

Jobs’s list of mentors include, among others: Al Gore, Larry Ellison of Oracle, Jony Ive, Ross Perot and Tim Cook, not to mention another unknown lady called Ann Bowers that was able to put up with Jobs’s attitude and help him steer Apple on the HR front. All these people played a role in helping Jobs reach excellence – as a person and company. The book illustrates many passages of this.

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Execution: People and product collaboration

Jobs was obsessed with design. He craved perfection. In this pursuit he also craved perfection from his people. His ability to cultivate the “A” team and nothing but “A” players had competitive advantages. “One fellow called Jon Rubinstein was in talks to find a disk drive that was small enough for the iPod but ample memory to make a great music player. After Rubinstein’s visit to Toshiba in Japan, in one week he was able to find the solution to launch the iPod.”

This “A” team advantage gave Apple the ability to create innovative products in unrelated industries as well. From the PC, Jobs developed the infamous Macintosh (with an “A” team). Then this led to creating the iPod (with an “A” team), to successfully turning around Pixar (with an “A” team). By the time that the iPod was launched, another team was working on the iPad but Jobs used attributes of the iPhone prototype to launch the iPad, which in turn provided unique features for the iPhone.
Exponential growth and scale was now possible because of the quality of his “A” teams.

Apple employees would work in open environments between product areas and this is what made them competitive and produce new products faster than any other rival, even as powerful as Sony. 

Since Jobs endorsed the philosophy of employees working together and not in silos, Apple systematically beat Sony at creating the best music player even after Sony dominated the industry with its ‘Walkman’. Sony could not have come up faster with an iPod equivalent nor were they able to replicate the iPod’s success. ‘Sony had a divisional structure for each product and staff members were not encouraged to share in between divisions’. At Apple this was a way of life.

Now that’s what I call execution! 

Execution: Great Marketing Communications 

Jobs understood great products and great distribution and he also understood great marketing.
Through networking, “Regis McKenna the PR agency introduced Jobs to a lanky beach bum with a bushy beard, wild hair, goofy grin and twinkling eyes Creative Director”.
Say hello to another Jobs mentor: Lee Clow of Chiat /Day agency. Jobs met Lee in 1983 and they continued the partnership for thirty years. Jobs was quoted as saying that “Lee was the best guy in advertising”.
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Jobs took Marketing communications seriously. At the outset of Apple with Wozniak he would be obsessed with copy, visuals and the right messages. When Jobs came back as full time CEO of Apple, “every Wednesdays he would approve TV commercials, print ads , bill boards ‘like no other CEO on the planet” according to Lee Clow.

Jobs’s infamous ‘1984’ ad, (directed by Ridley Scott) for the launch of the Macintosh during the Super Bowl, catapulted Apple to the big leagues. Through Clow’s creative genius and Jobs’s obsessiveness with color, design, font, visuals and the right photo they came out with the popular ‘Think different’ campaign, well worth checking out on YouTube.
How obsessive you may ask? Jobs called Yoko Ono to get a better photo of her and John Lennon (which he got) and Jobs also called the children of Jim Henson to get the right shot of the late Muppeteer, which they gladly accepted to provide. Jobs would stop at nothing to get the right color tone, hue, shadow and facial expression. Campaigns would be delayed for weeks till he found what he was looking for and all the right elements were in place.
When it came to communications Jobs would seek and deliver a different message – which sealed Apple’s fate as a Different company.

Jobs explained the “Think different” campaign: “this wasn’t about processor speed or memory…it was about creativity. It was directed not only to potential customers but also Apple’s own employees. We at Apple had forgotten who we were. One way to remember who you are is to remember who your heroes are.”
Once again Jobs made products for customers but also for his staff because if you recall, ‘…when you’re doing something for yourself or for your best friend or family, you’re not going to cheese out.’
Do you think that this kind of execution is inspirational? If so, like Jobs who are your heroes and peers to take your company at the next level?
Because after all, no one can do it alone…
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Source: Excerpts used from: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, 2013, Simon & Schuster

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