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...

...engineers and managers suddenly became sharply focused on just four areas," Isaacson writes, quoting Jobs as saying: "Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do."

4. Details: The devil is in them

Isaacson chronicles how Jobs obsessed over the tiniest details: the design of the case for the Apple II, the shape of the windows on the Mac's GUI, the colour of iMac blue in its first ad campaign, the machine having a CD slot not a tray, and the lighting at his launch keynotes. He would not stop obsessing until he could pronounce a product "insanely great" or ensure an event was rehearsed and choreographed to absolute perfection.

His perfectionism set the bar so high he was not a man to choose a cheaper material or a simpler design merely to cut costs. Nor would he ship a product he was not entirely happy with. Isaacson describes how the original iPhone was revised at the last minute, delaying its shipping date, because Jobs decided he was not 100 per cent happy with the design - telling his design chief Jony Ive: "I didn't sleep last night because I realised that I just don't love it." Jobs then asked the iPhone team to work nights and weekends to accommodate the last-minute redesign.

Few other companies would take such care over the look and feel of a product but Jobs did not relegate design to an afterthought - he made it an overarching philosophy that underpinned the Apple brand. Such detail-oriented obsession allowed Jobs to produce products that few rivals could match for quality and attention to detail - and to launch these products at events that gave them the best possible start in life.

Isaacson quotes Jobs describing this detail-oriented philosophy: "If something isn't right, you can't just ignore it and say you'll fix it later. That's what other companies do."

iMac: Jobs obsessed over products details such as the colour of the first iMacs

An original iMac: Jobs obsessed over product details - such as the CD slot in the original iMacCreative Commons: katz2110

5. Design: Comes first, second and third

Design was never an afterthought at Apple under Jobs' stewardship. On the contrary, design came first, second and third. It ran through everything the company did. Indeed, Apple engineers were frequently driven up the wall by the Apple practice of configuring the design of a product first and then requiring the technical guts to fit inside the design.

The iMac with its distinct, almost space-age looks and rich colours was a prime example of the phenomenon. Isaacson quotes Jobs describing the battle he and Ive had with engineers to get their way: "When we took it to the engineers they came up with 38 reasons they couldn't do it. And I said, 'No, no, we're doing this'. And they said, 'Well, why?' And I said, 'Because I'm the CEO, and I think it can be done'. And so they kind of grudgingly did it."

The end result was a machine that stood apart from all the other computers on the market at that time. Prioritising design allowed Apple to stand out in the beige and boxy landscape dominated by Windows PC.

But design for Jobs was about a process too, not just aesthetics. For instance, Jobs pushed...

0 comments

Editor's Picks