What We Shouldn't Learn From Steve Jobs

Jobs imageI don't know about you, but I am developing a major inferiority complex as I contemplate the achievements of Steve Jobs. In a decade that has been punishing and humbling for most CEOs, Steve has conjured victory after victory from the whole cloth of his vision, imagination, and singular focus on excellence. I am in complete agreement with Fortune Magazine's assessment that he is the "CEO of the Decade." -- I was already taking note back in 2004.

When confronted with a problem, a new favorite question of CEOs is: "What would Steve do?"

Don't get me wrong -- there will be many useful lessons from the Steve Jobs/Apple repertoire -- I expect a few great books will take on the task of revealing them. So I'll leave that to others. But let's ask another question -- what shouldn't we learn from Steve Jobs?

1) His lessons don't work in business to business environments. Apple innovates for consumers who do not have complex systems problems and who don't talk back. Steve likes to do it his way without interference or meddling. His strategy breaks down when he has to cooperate with others or make compromises for customers, or develop products that must fit into a wider, systemic world. You'll see evidence of this as Apple tries to negotiate with a widening set of independently-minded wireless service providers.

2) His approach wouldn't work for complex products. Remember that Apple doesn't make many products -- six Macs, four iPods, two IPhones, and Apple TV -- that's it. If Apple tried to build a car, it would take it three years just to design the dashboard. Now it would be an extraordinary dashboard, but Job's fabled micro-management would stall the delivery of a finished automobile.

3) Apple's fear-based management style wouldn't fit in people-intensive businesses. You couldn't run Accenture, Cap Gemini, or the U.S. Department of Commerce with the confrontational, "...you're not very smart/I'm going to fire you" Apple approach (well documented in another great Fortune article).

4) Steve is not just any CEO. Years ago I invited Steve to speak at a Forrester Forum, Our audiences are famously demanding. But when he walked on stage, everyone in the room melted -- he could have asked them to take off their clothes and they would have willingly complied. Steve has three assets that 99.9999% of all CEO will never have: 1) he is famous, 2) he has historically re-invented industries, and 3) he has formidable charisma. In other words, the guy is a one-off, with a history and set of skills that are rare and unteachable.

5) Apple is in a highly-specialized industry. Many of the Jobs lessons around design, speed, innovation, research, and development are not applicable to a wide array of businesses. It's doubtful if the brand manager for Cheerios or the supervisor of a Dupont chemical plant can gain much inspiration from the Apple story.

There are many positive lessons to learn from Steve and Apple. But let's apply those lessons where they are relevant and in context.

If you've got any stories or observations about what Apple can teach and not teach, I'd love to get your comment.

Comments

re: What We Shouldn't Learn From Steve Jobs

"six Macs, four iPods, two IPhones, and Apple TV -- that's it. "Did you actually do any research for this article?

re: What We Shouldn't Learn From Steve Jobs

are you joking? Are you trying to be original?- A car is more complex than a notebook (software + hardware)?- apple, an innovation company, is not a people intensive??- have you ever enter to mac store?

re: What We Shouldn't Learn From Steve Jobs

Great list, finally someone who points out that there are a couple of flaws ib the Jobs sphere. I like the man as a leader but a leader that goes into details like this man do could, in the long run, be dangerous because he is hard to replace. But I love my iPhone and would like the B2B industry to have a look and learn a from the care of details even though I agree that it isnt good to go into to much details because then development time could raise to a point where it isnt interesting to buy that service or product because its to expensive

re: What We Shouldn't Learn From Steve Jobs

"the guy is a one-off" Thank you for making this statement and taking the pressure off us regular folks!

re: What We Shouldn't Learn From Steve Jobs

"Remember that Apple doesn't make many products -- six Macs, four iPods, two IPhones, and Apple TV -- that's it."True -- if you don't count the dozens of peripherals for those products, and if you don't count iTunes, and if you don't count the dozens of software titles, including an OS (which is far more complex than a car by any reasonable standard). Not a bad post, but paragraph 2 doesn't work at all.One thing that Apple seems able to do consistently is to enter markets with a product that's not just better than the competition, but an order of magnitude better (e.g., the 5GB iPod, iTunes and, in the US anyway, the iPhone). In deciding to buy an Apple product, comparing features and quality is the easy part. It's just a simple matter of whether you want to spend the extra bucks. Whether others can or should apply this approach, I can't say.

re: What We Shouldn't Learn From Steve Jobs

I think the *limitations* of admiring him--not his faults--are the point of this article. Disagree with the examples (I think #2 is off-base), but it's a good lesson that not everyone in business ought to follow Jobs's example.

re: What We Shouldn't Learn From Steve Jobs

Nice hyperbole.

re: What We Shouldn't Learn From Steve Jobs

I think you should re-evaluate your position on whether a car's dashboard is really that much more complex a design process than the user interface of an operating system. Or actually the operating system itself. Or a cloud-based product like mobile me.

re: What We Shouldn't Learn From Steve Jobs

Are Steve's dealings and eventual results with Disney, music industry moguls, AT&T etc are not in B2B business??I think, quality, innovation and insight are applicable to any industry - it's just a matter of having such leader to instill that...

re: What We Shouldn't Learn From Steve Jobs

You have to remember that the way Apple got computers into the market in the first place was to have compelling products that people couldn't live without. That's the way the PC industry started - - workers began bringing the Apple II into work BEFORE their companies were even aware PC's were important. So I'm not sure it requires the kind of co-operation you're talking about. Wireless carries would have to be brain dead to ignore an opportunity to have the iPhone, for example.

re: What We Shouldn't Learn From Steve Jobs

His comment that people don't read anymore and apparent reluctance to lead the ebook reader race don't put him at the top of my list. I do agree with the comment above that Pixar-Disney is a stunning B2B success, although perhaps something short of the Happiest Place on Earth.

re: What We Shouldn't Learn From Steve Jobs

George, thanks for an interesting post and your willingness to stick your neck out!My take? Why would you want to learn from (as in copy) what Steve Jobs is doing? Is that a kind of best practices approach? Look, every person on this planet is a ONE-OFF! Steve Jobs is a perfect example that it takes a great individual who can motivate a great team to innovate. You can't learn that from him, because as a CEO you either are like that or you belong to the control freak type who thinks he can run a business by remote control. Most large corporations fire more people for lack of compliance to inhouse politics than for lack of innovation. That is not what Steve Jobs is doing. Driving people forward and push for perfection does create fear in people who should rather be in a government job.I my humble opinion, CEOs can learn from Steve Jobs one thing: It is not about what Apple as a business can do for their business. It's about what Apple (or anyone else) can do for their customers! That will be good for business! That is the reason that Apple was willing to take on the powerful telecoms, who now that he is having his way are willingly falling in line because their customers are asking for iPhones!

re: What We Shouldn't Learn From Steve Jobs

half of your article is nonsense, you can replace the other half with this : "Not every business is IT"

re: What We Shouldn't Learn From Steve Jobs

I worked for Steve when we were both at NeXT. For part of my time there he was my direct boss.No article or blog will ever capture what made a person tick over a couple of decades without glossing over all sorts of details. Steve is a complex person, great people love working for or with him and much can be learned from Apple's focus on customers. Attention to detail really does matter.I am not going to agree or disagree with the specific points cited. I will say it is good to see some balance in the discussion about what CEOs can learn from Steve's track record, what they can learn from Apple and from the IT sector in general. Companies like Apple are constantly inventing the future even when everyone knows you cannot predict the future with any degree of accuracy.As Steve says in the Stanford Graduation speech 'you can only see how the dots connect after the fact'. History connects the dots that seem relevant while it forgets all the other dots that are surplus to the story line.Have passion about what you do and be willing to put your views forward. Many might not support your viewpoint (written words, products) and yet you still might be right in the end. Be willing to fail in the quest to get it right. Trust your judgment and realize that you will get it wrong much of the time. When you do go get it wrong back and try again (iMovie from Apple is a current example of a complete restart).Baker

re: What We Shouldn't Learn From Steve Jobs

I believe this article is well written but skewed in a way that it bypasses what doesn't make its case. Apple DOES have quite a bit more products than what's mentioned above.I do however agree with the statement that Steve's approach would work "less then great" in a B2B environment.Cheershttp://favorfly.blogspot.com

re: What We Shouldn't Learn From Steve Jobs

"Be willing to fail in the quest to get it right. Trust your judgment and realize that you will get it wrong much of the time. When you do go get it wrong back and try again."Sounds like John Corey's observation applies to the sole questionable minor fact in the article. But look at what he got right!

re: What We Shouldn't Learn From Steve Jobs

Oh my. Pithy explanations of complex issues are blog-tastic.

re: What We Shouldn't Learn From Steve Jobs

One of the major lessons that Jobs can teach all CEOs is the value and power of courage and convictions. Many leaders get pushed around by their PR staff, or engineering, or marketing, or their lawyers -- to the extent that a company's greatest ideas are buried or compromised into mediocrity. Apple's point of view is not in any way diluted by its size (thanks to Steve) -- and that world view is at the heart of its value proposition.

re: What We Shouldn't Learn From Steve Jobs

1) We'll see2) Perhaps Steve has the right idea, you don't need that many products. It's not like the auto industry is the bastion of success. I don't remember Jobs sitting in front of Congress asking for an allowance. Maybe more companies should consider focusing on profit-making quality, rather than quantity.3) Maybe not the Department of Commerce, but how about the Department of Defense?4) Being famous isn't something you're born with, you get there by using 2 & 3.I'm not seeing alot that can't be learned from Steve Jobs.

re: What We Shouldn't Learn From Steve Jobs

I with your. Apple makes a handful of products, the rest is razor blades. Apple isn't a tech company. It's a design company.

re: What We Shouldn't Learn From Steve Jobs

Both IT-side and enterprise-side folks might want to take a good look at two of George's statements: (1) "Apple innovates for consumers who do not have complex systems problems" (2) "products that must fit into a wider, systemic world."

Unfortunately, there is little or no differentiation between consumer and enterprise software in certain areas of design. For example, while the user interface (UI) of consumer software could be viewed and designed as a human-computer interface or even as a medium for (pleasurble) experience, the UI for enterprise software is fundamentally/primarily a business process. Therefore, it should be viewed and designed first as a business process. More about this at:
http://pradeephenry.blogspot.com/2009/09/business-software-vs-consumer-software.html.

Disagreement Hierarchy

You seem to have gotten to only the second level of the disagreement hierarchy. The first level is were one ignorantly calls the author a disapproving name (example: half-wit). The second level is to simply challenge the basis of the person's argument and or credentials, which is what you are doing when you inquire the level of research that was entered into this post. Well, sir, i would say to you that you should have posted something worthwhile for everyone's time and reached the highest level of the disagreement hierarchy--attacking the author's central message--instead of just childishly pointing out any little typo with a barbaric snyde remark. You have no credentials whatsoever to be commenting on such an insightful post from a wildly successful man (who i might add takes time out of his day to share his thoughts with the community). You might argue, "well what credentials do you have, Patrick?" Not many...but enough to shoot down an infantile post that adds nothing to an educated post.

So, "Whatever," a remark like that one does not seem like it would come from a person who would read an business related blog, but rather a smut magazine or a blog about the latest thrasher movie. Now that i have challenged your central point, i will end with this: you are a creton.

-Patrick

Patrick, first of all even if

Patrick, first of all even if a person is 'widely successful man' it doesn't mean whatever he says is right. If it is then I guess George do not have a right to write something like 'What you should not learn from Jobs' .

The assumptions of author of the blog even though he is a CEO himself are totally baseless and simple(I am telling you why in next sentence) . If you want to apply Jobs thinking to other Business IT IS NOT GOING TO BE SAME APPROACH AS FOR APPLE dummy! He will apply the things to make it as per those industries. His thinking is beyond design - It is making a World Class product ... AFFORDABLE. When branded 'smart' phones were shipping at $600 he came up with iphone - best in industry with just $400 and prices has fallen more since then. So the basic core of the blog that Jobs is just a design person is BASELESS and FALSE.

You can see similar things with Google - making World Class services .. FREE!

That is the reason these 2 CEO are ruling their respective industries.

So if Jobs ever go for a car .. .he will not just design the dashboard you idiot... He will make a World Class Car ... at affordable price.

If you see ipad .. it is not only design ... it is much better than that ... Ease of use, affordable (compare prices and functions with your Kindle) and Relevant (see battery life , touch screen enhancements , etc. ).

My God ... seems like my first day on this blog might become the last.