Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What Would Steve Do?

Three ways in which we can all "make like Steve" and achieve more success in everything that we do

It's been quite a while since I closed the book on Walter Isaacson's hefty bio on the late Steve Jobs. I've been meaning to write this post sooner—but perhaps the time away from the book has helped me reflect on what I truly took away from it.

Most people I've chatted with about Jobs' story seem to focus on his management style, personality quirks, and bi-polar point-of-view on the world. But there are several elements of the way Steve Jobs approached business that aren't directly tied to his personality, elements that we can all use to improve the way we solve problems, develop products, and build brands.

For one, a passion for what you do. Two, not settling for being "good enough" when you can be "insanely great". Three, the idea of "imputing" the values of your brand into everything you say and do. Enjoy my take on three of the things that Steve most definitely did


1. Bring Passion

The first thing that will help you "make like Steve" is to bring passion to all of the things that you do—or, at the very least, all of the things that you care about.

Jobs was passionate about his work at Apple, then NeXT, then Pixar, then Apple again, almost to a fault. He would cry during meetings and fights when things didn't go his way. He would fight his hardest for what he believed in, and would never give in. But most of all, he loved his work. When building the Macintosh, he saw himself and his Mac Team as the pirates within the growing company that was Apple, renegades who truly loved what they were building.

What does that mean for us? Should we start crying when meetings don't go our way? Or throw hissy fits when we don't get what we want? No, of course not. It just means that, wherever you're conducting yourself—be it at work, with a personal project, or within a group—bring passion. Show that you care. And then be ready to take a stand when it's something you truly believe in.

2. Be "Insanely Great"

What else would Steve do? Well, he strove to be, and to make things that are "insanely great", not merely "good enough", and that has turned Apple into one of the most valuable companies on the planet.

Jobs fought hard to take his products to the next level. While the rest of the computer industry was content to produce the same unimpressive products over and over, and consumers were content to continue buying them, Jobs approached product development much differently. He strove for greatness—to deliver experiences that were ten times better than what people were used to—even if they didn't yet know that there could be anything better. He even paid attention to the greatness of every last detail: I will never forget the story of how he made the Macintosh's designers re-do the design of the window's title bar over 20 times until it was easy on the eyes.

For us, the idea of building great things has fallen a bit by the wayside. With an overall lack of time, energy, and the riskiness of building new products in the first place, we generally strive for "good enough" - just do it, push it through, forget about it, and move on. In most cases, we're okay - our emails are "good enough", our presentations are "good enough", our products are "good enough". But every once in a while, we'll see an email, a presentation, or a product that's "insanely great", and we'll remember how much of a difference that approach can make.

3. "Impute" Your Values

Finally, Steve Jobs was obsessed with "imputing" the values of the Apple brand into everything it said and did, and in every aspect of how it presented itself.

Jobs understood that the little things matter, and that consumers and audiences were tuned—even if subconsciously—to pick up on small details and adjust their perceptions accordingly. The way he built his products and presented them to people was just an outward reflection of that deep understanding. The look and feel of the casing is important (I'm typing this on the smooth plastic keys of a MacBook Air, as my palms rest on its silky, stainless-steel surface). The packaging, and how the products look as you unwrap them, is important. Even the way that they're presented in the store is important. All of the touch-points between the consumer and the product were meant to convey one thing about Apple—premium. Simply put, Apple products make others look and feel like shit. Apple feels premium. And people will pay for their products.

This should be the number one take away for all of us. Every little thing says something about who you are. The way you dress. How you speak. The look and feel of your business cards. The small touches on your presentations. The thoughtfulness that's put into the things you produce. It all adds up to the person watching, the person judging, the person who is deciding whether you're worth their time or not. Jobs got it right: the details do matter. Find out what the values of your brand are and make sure that they shine through in every detail.

So, now you know the answer to the question "What would Steve do?" He brought passion to what he did. He strove for "insanely great". He tried to "impute" his values into every detail—even those that aren't visible. Now get out there and "make like Steve".

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