By: Brenda J. Trainor
The loss of a leader can have a profound impact on a business. The death of Steve Jobs was met with great emotion by the community of people who have become devoted fans of Apple products, most of whom communicated their laments immediately on their Apple products: their Macs or iPhones or iPads. News of Jobs death was transmitted immediately on the Internet via postings on Twitter and Facebook, on emails and web sites and blogs, reflections of sadness at the loss of a man whose image had reached almost heroic proportions. Standard news media was secondary to individual messages; it just couldn’t match the speed of the individuals’ electronic communiqués. The reflected devotion to the man and his company is just an example of how a corporate brand has been incorporated into products and philosophy of its consumers. The way Jobs approached technology has had a profound impact on the way information is being processed by individuals and his vision has changed the way business uses technology.
The impact of Apple products on the technology business cannot be underestimated. The slogan was to “Think Different” and tech users liked the different way Apple was thinking. Jobs had a devotion to excellence, simplicity, and design – and this was reflected in the series of mold-shattering products that the company introduced under his leadership. Apple products were easy to use, they were user-friendly, and they enabled people to do more things quickly and easily at their fingertips. Apple products didn’t look like they came from an engineer with lots of gauges and buttons and meters, they looked like friendly, accessible accessories to your life, and that simplicity bred the users’ devotion. The friendliness is what made Apple products so approachable and so easily incorporated into our daily lives.
In the days and weeks after Jobs passing, we learned a lot about the man that had not been so widely reported during his life as a pioneering technology guru. Jobs was known for the approachability of his products, but not for the approachability of the man. He was intensely private, and was not cut from the typical corporate mold of Ivy-League business schools and country clubs. Rather, Jobs was the product of unwed students (a Syrian immigrant father and a US mother whose father disapproved of her relationship) and he was given up for adoption and raised in a modest middle-American fashion, and lived in a comparatively modest style. He seemed to choose alternative paths in life: dropping out of college, traveling to India, studying Buddhism, taking LSD. But he had an inherent drive to pursue innovations and connected with others who could share his alternative way of thinking. Jobs, as is widely reported now, was a difficult boss, known to be driven and temperamental and impatient with others who didn’t meet his expectations for perfection and excellence. By all reports, he was not ego-driven, but motivated by a private sense of wanting to do things his way, according to his vision.
With his passing, who will now carry on the vision at Apple? Jobs knew that his disease would take his life, and it appears that he worked to put his affairs in order by arranging to have his business approach analyzed and codified to carry on into the future of the company. There are evidently plans for products to be launched that carry on the Apple philosophy of design simplicity and functionality – the long-rumored Apple approach to television is already getting coverage in the trade press. It seems that Jobs did what he could to convey his approach and his vision for his corporation, and there are many devotees of his that want to see the continuation of his approach at Apple headquarters.
The Apple way of doing business will likely not be easily replicated by companies who don’t have a cadre of followers, and it may even be difficult for Apple to maintain its course of innovation in the absence of its visionary. But what we can appreciate from Jobs is that his devotion to perfection and simplicity drove the business decisions about his products. He didn’t manage to shareholder demands or ROI estimates; rather Jobs managed to functionality, somehow knowing that consumers would ultimately appreciate the simplicity of his designs and become devotees in the usefulness of his products. The Jobs approach to deliver simplicity and utility is how he achieved value in his creations. That courageous approach is what any business can replicate and what remains as Jobs greatest lesson – just do it right, do it simply, and your customers will thank you for it.
Brenda J. Trainor
Frontier Trail, Inc.
Monrovia, CA 91017