Product Strategists: Strive To Be Like Steve

The outpouring of remembrance and appreciation of Steve Jobs reflects the breadth of his influence: on technology, on industries ranging from music to retail, on consumer behavior, and on individuals — it’s nigh impossible to think of a CEO about whom consumers feel as passionately. Steve Jobs was many things — visionary, business disruptor, marketing genius — but his most indelible mark is in the products he created.

Of course, it’s overly simplistic to advise product strategists that they should emulate Steve Jobs — I might as well say “be visionary!” or “create the future!” But there are key lessons in product strategy that spell success for mere mortals:

  • Simpler is better. Too often, reviewers and commentators characterize Apple’s products and interfaces as “intuitive.” For an entirely new product like the iPad, there is very little intuition on which to draw — therefore it is critical to ruthlessly simplify and make it abundantly clear to the customer how a function works. One reason that people love Apple products is that they spend their time doing, not figuring out how to do. Keep it simple.
  • Have the courage of your convictions. Steve Jobs has many famous quotes along the lines of “we all do this today . . . and it sucks” — in every case, he believed these experiences could be better, asked himself how things should work, and took it in hand to realize that vision. Apple famously eschews market research in its product ideation and design (which is not the same as not valuing market research) because it believes in its vision for a better experience. Believe in your vision.
  • Don’t ship product until it’s ready. Many people were amazed when Steve said that the iPad began its life a decade before its realization in the market. Some technology components, such as responsive touchscreens and affordable flash memory, took a long time to become viable. But Steve was not willing to ship the iPad until it realized his product vision, even if it took a decade. You never know; good things might fall out as a result of waiting — like the iPhone.
  • If you don’t love your product, neither will your customers. Steve Jobs could be harsh in his criticism of others (often justifiably), but his products had to satisfy his most astute critic: himself. He often said that the people at Apple designed products they wanted to use, and, provided they did a good job in achieving that goal, their customers would feel likewise. Ask yourself whether you love your product — if the answer isn’t “yes,” then no amount of marketing or product placement will help.

Most of us owe some debt to Steve Jobs. If those of us in product strategy pay it by striving to emulate his achievements, we’ll do him the honor he deserves. Rest in peace, Steve.