Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Steve Jobs: Innovation Leader

I am an unabashed Steve Jobs enthusiast! I think that what he has done at Apple is nothing short of amazing, and for me the iPod experience has been the most interesting project of all. I've written an IMD case study on "The Making of the iPod" [IMD-3-2142, November 12, 2009], which can be found on the www.ecch.com site. One of the byproducts of my looking at Steve Jobs and Apple's innovation was an invitation to be interviewed by the Brazilian newspaper Correiro Braziliense. What follows are my original english notes for the interview:

Question 1) Steve jobs can be pointed as the main responsible for apple's success? Why?
Response: Steve Jobs was one of the founders of Apple, so for that reason alone he deserves credit for the success of this organization. But, we also know that this has not been a "sure thing" of a "straight path" to success. In fact, Steve Jobs' major claim to being the author of Apple's success lies, I believe, in the "reinvention" of both Apple and himself. In the period between Jobs' departure from Apple, in 1985, and his return 1996, Apple had lost a lot of its "magic" and had become "just another consumer electronics" company; even to the point of being "price-competitive" in the commodity end of the market. To be fair, it had experimented with some interesting projects, the "Newton" being the best known, but it was no longer the elite, exciting, cutting-edge company that it had always been under Jobs in his first "regime." Upon his return to Apple, Jobs combined aggressive cost-cutting, and product-portfolio pruning, with a return to dreaming, and the results are that today it is one of the world's most valuable companies. Jobs personified the brand, in his personal role as leader, as a cheer-leader for change, and as the protector of the brand values. He was both a visionary and disciplinarian, and both at the same time. My sense is that without Steve Jobs, Apple would not be the company that it is today; it might, in fact, not even exist!

Question 2) On your article "Innovation lessons from Apple" you said that iPhones and iPods change the way we live. Why? What they have that causes so much admiration?
Response: Steve Jobs is to the entertainment industry as Thomas Edison was to lighting. The iPod has redefined how we buy, store, and listen to music. It has completely "blown-up" an entire value-chain. Gone, today, for the most part, are record stores, CD production, liner-note writers, album cover designers, and all the other "bit-players" that for decades populated the music industry. Where'd they go? Apple rendered them unnecessary! Not because Apple invented mp3, or computer-based jukeboxes, or on-line purchasing, but because Apple was the only company sufficient visionary, influential and gutsy to pull together an entire new value-chain, including content-providers and distribution methods, to make portable digital media easy, convenient and affordable. What Apple did was to rewire the customer listening experience; all the rest, the hardware [iPod],software, etc. are merely accessories to the big idea of reinventing the music business. Now, they're doing similar things to the mobile phone and book-publishing industry. Furthermore, the real story is not about the music, the books or the phone calls, it's about our lives; it's about how we now get news from podcasts and use apps to book flights, check transportation or pay bills. The one thing that all of these platforms have in common is that they are about our needs more than they are about some producer's hardware. That's so unusal that it's hard not to be admiring!

Question 3) On the same article you said that great leaders didn't sustain inovative themselves. How Jobs can continue be inovative? Do you think this characteristic is going to last long?
Response: In a new book entitled "The Idea Hunter" [Jossey-Bass, April 2011] that Andy Boynton and myself have coming out shortly, we look at what makes for exceptional idea-work, and Steve Jobs meets all of our conclusions. He knows exactly what he's looking for, because he understands himself and his "gig" [the mission in his life that drives all he does]. This actually makes it easier to deal with surprises and search for new ideas because he understands the power of change, as opposed to resisting it. In addition, he is an extremely broad-banded individual: he has electic tastes, but can sample ideas from these many fields of interest and weave them together into a coherent story. This is what gave birth to the iPod, when so many seasoned "experts" in the field failed to see the opportunities. Finally, Jobs trusts others to move his ideas forward. His targets for handpicked talent-laden teams are so precise and so inspirational [take, for example, one of the key targets for the iPod team: "1,000 songs in my pocket", at a time when the leading mp3 player played only 12 songs and could hardly fit into a pocket, and you see both the stretch and the inspiration it contains.] that he can allow others to join-in in co-creating the future, while never feeling that he's loosing control. This ability to invite others in to share their ideas is a hallmark of great innovators.

Question 4) What will be the future of Apple when Jobs dies?
Response: This is an important and valid question. When Steve Jobs was ill last year and required a liver transplant, COO Tim Cook stood in for him and did an admirable job, but, to be honest, we really need a longer period of performance to draw any real conculsions. My sense is that he will, undoubtedly be missed. I mean, he has shaped this organization in a powerful and enormously succesful way that he will leave an influential legacy, for better or for worse. I think, however, that if we consider GE without either Thomas Edison or Jack Welch -- both unthinkable propositions in their time-- or so many other companies with strong formative founders, the real measure of success is not so much the products but the values. At Apple, I believe that Steve Jobs has instilled a pride of purpose and a belief in the way that the organization works, that he has increased the probability that Apple will continue to sustain its success well after Steve's departure.

Question 5) Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, what they have in commom?
Response: They're all brave, iconoclastic, risk-makers; they're dreamers, but with an eye on the details; and, at least Gates and Jobs, are broad bandwidthed individuals who are always in the hunt for new ideas; finally, both Jobs and Gates [it's way to early to tell about Zuckerberg at this point] "act like leaders." They are spokespeople for their organzational and personal values, the inspire those around them, and they make difficult decisions; they personify their brands!

Question 6) What entrepreneurs can learn from Jobs?
Response: When Andy Boynton and I wrote the book "Virtuoso Teams," [Financial Times/Prentice Hall, 2005] one comment was that many of our stories of teams that took great people and achieved exceptional results were "historical" ones [Thomas Edison, Miles Davis, Roald Amundsen, the Manhattan Project, etc.]. In fact, Steve Jobs is the personification of most of the lessons that we learned about successful innovation. Lessons such as: Don't give up! Continue to dream. Set demanding and inspirational goals and then let others get on with it. Think better about your customer than the prevailing industry stereotype does. Build systems, rather than products or platforms. Start with the customer, stretch their lives and then stretch yourself in an effort to deliver great rather than good.

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