CXO

Ten leadership lessons from the Steve Jobs school of management

What Walter Isaacson's biography of Apple's co-founder can teach about doing business the right way...

...challenge him and certainly did not brook 'yes men' or sycophants, calling such people "bozos", according to Isaacson. Rather, he valued clear thinking and the courage to defend that clarity under fire.

"People were allowed, even encouraged to challenge him," writes Isaacson. "And sometimes he would respect them for it. But you had to be prepared for him to attack you, even bite your head off, as he processed your ideas."

Apple's MobileMe

Apple's MobileMe: A product that brought out Jobs' straight-talking approachImage: Apple

Jobs' lack of a filter when expressing himself meant his emotions were often on show - Isaacson describes him screaming at people when angry or openly crying when under fire himself.

He was clearly not always the easiest person to work for. In one instance of plain-speaking, when Apple's MobileMe effort had run into trouble, Jobs called the team responsible into a meeting and asked what the software service was supposed to do. After they had given their responses, he asked: "So why the f*ck doesn't it do that?"

This straight-talking approach to business helped lock in Apple's clarity of focus. There was no hiding behind meaningless management-speak in Cupertino and no jargon to spread FUD and muddle objectives. The result is a company that does not mix its messages and one that turns out clearly defined products.

3. Focus: Less is more, simpler is better

One of Jobs' first acts on returning to Apple was to convene a big product strategy review and prune back a raft of products and features so that Apple could focus on a select few.

"Instead of encouraging each group to let product lines proliferate based on marketing considerations, or permitting a thousand ideas to bloom, Jobs insisted that Apple focus on just two or three priorities at a time," writes Isaacson.

Jobs' clarity of focus owed a lot to Mike Markkula, a VC and marketing guru whom Jobs recruited to Apple when it was still based in his parents' garage and who wrote most of Apple's early business plan. Isaacson describes how Markkula also wrote a one-page paper entitled The Apple Marketing Philosophy which contained three core principles - including to focus on a few select things and eliminate "unimportant opportunities".

Reducing the number of products to a handful of flagship items gave Apple back the strong focus it had lacked during the Jobs-less interregnum. "The company was churning out multiple versions of each product because of bureaucratic momentum and to satisfy the whims of retailers... Apple had a dozen versions of the Macintosh, each with a different confusing number," Isaacson writes. It was even making printers and servers.

Jobs pruned the hardware product sprawl right back to just four machines: a consumer desktop Mac, a consumer portable Mac, a pro desktop and a pro portable. "The result was that Apple...

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