This post examines some of Steve Jobs’s application of Principles to building the Apple company. It draws background from this Harvard Business Review article, The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs.
Steve Jobs was focused on minimizing clutter. This means removing extraneous elements (Principle 2 – Taking Out). When the iPhone was being developed Jobs looked at the other phone manufacturers and their constant addition of buttons and features and instead on focused on making the iPhone rely on the touch screen for almost all interaction (Principle 6 – Universality).
In 1997, Jobs rejoined Apple as CEO and found the company at the verge of bankruptcy. One of his first decisions was to simplify Apple’s product line (Principle 2 – Taking Out), which had become bloated in his absence. He divided the market into two columns – consumer and pro – and two rows – desktop and portable (Principle 3 – Local Quality). The focus was to be on making great products in each quadrant. “Deciding what not to do,” explained Jobs later, “is as important as deciding what to do.”
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” read Apple’s first brochure. Jobs’s approach is exemplified by his reaction to a navigation screen in an early design of the iPod interface. The screen asked the user whether they wanted to search by song, album or artist, which Jobs argued was unnecessary (Principle 2 – Taking Out). Even the on-off button was removed from the iPod because the machine could be programmed to go to sleep when it was idle (Principle 23 – Feedback) and could come back to life when any button was touched (Principle 6 – Universality).
iPod begat iPhone
The iPod was a great success for Apple but Jobs predicted the threat to iPods coming from mobile phone makers would start adding music players to their products (Principle 5 – Merging). Rather than cede the ground, Jobs started the company’s development of what would be the iPhone. Jobs observed, “If we don’t cannibalize ourselves, some else will.”
“If it would save a person’s life, could you find a way to shave 10 seconds off the boot time?” Jobs asked the Macintosh operating system’s engineer Larry Kenyon. The engineer protested but Jobs went to the whiteboard and did the math:
“If five million people were using the Mac and it took 10 seconds extra to turn it on every day, that added up to 300 million or so hours a year—the equivalent of at least 100 lifetimes a year. After a few weeks Kenyon had the machine booting up 28 seconds faster.”
Unlike the other Jobs anecdotes above, this story doesn’t map to the Inventive Principles, but I share it here because it’s an inspirational reminder that the solution to any problem is available, and valuable.