Photo: AP images
Not long after we sold Right Media to Yahoo, Jerry Yang became CEO and held an off site for the top Yahoo executives. Jerry talked a lot about the need for Yahoo to get it’s mojo back. He drew a lot of parallels to another company that was able to reinvent itself after a period of being in a funk—Apple. Then in walked Steve Jobs! Steve was incredible. He talked about his own struggle with bringing Apple back to greatness, and how critical it was to figure out what your brand represents—and being absolutely maniacal about protecting that brand and the vision to support it.
For me, it was a life-changing experience. And it’s made me think a lot over the past week about what the brand that Steve worked so hard to create truly stood for. What I found has some amazing lessons for business, and for life.
Here’s a few of those lessons:
Make Apps. It’s hard to underestimate the power of the app store concept that Jobs championed. The ramifications for a consumer app market are obvious to everyone who’s owned an “i-product.” And it’s had enormous impact on BtoB companies, like Salesforce and Intuit, as well. What Steve understood is that when one business supplies the core infrastructure and other businesses layer on top of it, you can offer the market more of what it wants, quickly—which is what ultimately makes consumers happy.
Be simple. There’s the great story about how Steve carried a block of wood around the office while the team was creating the iPhone. He wanted to remind everyone around him that things should be simple. Jobs understood that technology is only as powerful as the ability for real people to use it. And it’s simple, usable functionality—not ridiculous over engineering—that makes for technological power. That’s something the technology world forgets very often. And it’s a point we all need to strive to remember.
Be modest. Jobs was one of the most famous individuals on the face of the earth. But we saw next to nothing of his personal life. That’s by design. Fame for Steve Jobs wasn’t about Steve Jobs. Fame for Steve Jobs was about Apple. It’s a lesson in humility that clearly worked, and that a lot of business leaders can learn a tremendous amount from.
The takeaway: empowerment. What, fundamentally, did the brand that Steve Jobs created and defended really stand for? Empowerment.
I’ll explain. The genius of Apple products is that they let us use technology organically. Apple products are tactile and visual—there’s very little technology (like buttons, dials, or welcome screens) standing between what you want the technology to do, and what the technology actually does. That’s the key to the amazing intuitiveness of Apple products: products which are so intuitive, they don’t even come with instructions—because they just don’t need to.
This is, of course, all an extension of the note about simplicity I made above. But it’s not just about being simple. It’s a point that goes to the App store concept as well. Apple isn’t there to make you spend your life with Apple. Apple is there to enable users to do the things they want to do—listen to music, play Angry Birds, watch a movie, whatever else. Then Apple gets out of the way. Just like Steve Jobs himself let him know you as CEO—but only long enough to let you know his products. Then Steve Jobs would get out of the way, too.
Jobs’ whole life was about a focus on something bigger. Jobs’ professional life wasn’t about Jobs, it was about Apple. Apple’s existence isn’t about Apple—it’s about the community and users and developers it enables. It’s all there to empower a larger community.
And that’s what great technology, great brands, and great leadership are really all about. For that matter, that’s what a well-lived life is really all about. That’s the legacy that Steve left me, and everyone at the Yahoo executive off site, and the entire technology industry. It’s the legacy Steve Jobs left the whole world.
And I can’t think of a better legacy to leave.