First Up: What Would Steve Jobs Do?

Nov. 10, 2010
A new book examines the principles Apple's cofounder and CEO has used to make the company a legendary innovator.

Innovation is the gold standard for companies that want to succeed in a global economy. Don't just play the game better. Change it. The 10 individuals IndustryWeek is recognizing this issue in ourManufacturing Hall of Fame can all lay claim to the title of innovator, but perhaps no current company leader receives more credit for that role than one of the honorees from last year's inaugural Hall of Fame class, Steve Jobs.

In his book, "The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs," author Carmine Gallo cites seven principles that Jobs has employed in the pursuit of "insanely great" products. Here are four to ponder:

Do What You Love
Gallo tells the story of how Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College and then decided to "drop in" on a calligraphy class. Ten years later, that course influenced Jobs to build multiple typefaces and proportional font spacing into the first Macintosh computer. Following your passions may seem quixotic, but Gallo says it is essential. He cites his visit to a corrugated box manufacturer in California. Despite the recession, the company was very successful, fueled by the passion of its CEO to build containers that helped get vital products such as pharmaceuticals and technology products to consumers. "When people go to work for eight hours, they want to find some joy, some meaning in what they do. If you can find that meaning in making corrugated boxes, then I think most companies can do that," says Gallo.

Put a Dent in the Universe
A bold vision masterfully articulated by a single-minded champion is a key component of Apple's success. Gallo urges companies to throw away the mission statements and develop a vision, "a picture of a better world that your product or service makes possible." A captivating vision, he argues, inspires "stakeholders to become evangelists for the organization." Jobs' vision for Apple was "a computer in the hands of everyday people." Gallo points out that Jobs has no use for elaborate innovation systems. In Jobs' view, you hire really smart people and inspire them to build great products. The leader's job is to passionately focus employees on pursuit of that vision.

Kick Start Your Brain
" Part of what made the Macintosh great was that the people working on it were musicians, and poets, and artists, and zoologists, and historians who also happened to be the best computer scientists in the world," Jobs once said. There is a lesson here for companies that have a set way of doing things and try to hire a certain mold of people. Researchers have found that connecting ideas from different fields is a strong element of creativity. Jobs has demonstrated that throughout his career, from looking at Cuisinarts in Macy's as a design inspiration for the Apple II to modeling Apple stores after the customer experience at the Four Seasons hotels.

Say No to 1,000 Things
When Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, it was close to bankruptcy. The company had hundreds of products, but there was no focus or structure to the product offering. By the end of 1998, Jobs had whittled the number of products to just 10. By doing so, Jobs explained, the company could put its best people on developing these products, and develop new versions faster. The flip side of that, Jobs explained in a 2004 BusinessWeek interview, was "saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don't get on the wrong track or try to do too much." He added that it was "only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important."

So, armed with "The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs," can any company be as innovative as Apple? Unfortunately, says Gallo, the answer is no. "No, because it takes a lot of courage to be innovative. It takes courage to defy skeptics and naysayers. It takes courage to make things simple. It takes courage to communicate consistently to your teams and consumers. It takes courage and confidence and belief in your vision. Not everybody has that courage."

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