Thoughts on Steve

When Steve spoke, people really listened, because he told stories that resonated in a deeply human way. He was a singular figure, at—as he liked to call it—the intersection of technology and liberal arts. From Apple, to Pixar, NeXT, and again at Apple over the past 14 years, he focused all his energy on giving people the ability to do extraordinary things with technology. In doing so, he taught us so much about how to live and work meaningfully. Here are four lessons from Steve that I will always carry with me:

Choose Things That are in Their Springs

At the D8 conference in June 2010, he explained how Apple chooses the technologies to include in their products:

The way we’ve succeeded is by choosing what horses to ride really carefully – technically. We try to look for these technical vectors that have a future, and that are headed up, and, you know, different pieces of technology kind of go in cycles. They have their springs and summers, and autumns, and then they, you know, go to the graveyard of technology. And, so we try to pick the things that are in their springs.

And, if you choose wisely, you can save yourself an enormous amount of work vs. trying to do everything. And you can really put energy into making those new emerging technologies be great on your platform, rather then just okay because you’re spreading yourself too thin.

Design is how it Works

From The Guts of a New Machine, the 2003 New York Times article that profiled Apple just as the iPod was being recognized as a cultural phenomenon:

”Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like,” says Steve Jobs, Apple’s C.E.O. ”People think it’s this veneer — that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

Focus, Because You Have One Shot to Get it Right

In an article in Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge, Steve Kemper tells the story of a secret meeting between the team building the Segway personal transport device and Steve. The Segway designers wanted his opinion, and during the meeting he reportedly criticized the product’s design, saying:

“You have this incredibly innovative machine but it looks very traditional.”

When members of the team countered that they were on a tight schedule to release the product, and felt they couldn’t spend more time on the design, he replied:

“Screw the lead times. You don’t have a great product yet! I know burn rates are important, but you’ll only get one shot at this, and if you blow it, it’s over.”

He explained his experience with the iMac, how there were four models now but he had launched with just one color to give his designers, salespeople, and the public an absolute focus. He had waited seven months to introduce the other models.

Giving everyone an absolute focus helps them create a product rise above the competition to become a universally recognizable phenomenon. When that translates into a large customer base, the designers and engineers can return to the drawing board to refine their creation and potentially develop new models to satisfy different needs.

But in the beginning, all that matters is getting the product right.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

In the last chapter of Wikipatterns, I included the following passage:

In his 2005 Commencement address at Stanford University, Steve Jobs’ parting words to the graduates were “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” They came from the final issue of The Whole Earth Catalog, itself a product of the collective efforts of a community, and they perfectly describe the attitude necessary to bring about change. Introducing a wiki to your organization and changing your culture for the better is an exhilarating experience. It takes time and dedication, and if you’re the WikiChampion, a few odd looks the first few times you tell people about the “wiki”. But it’s worth it, because it creates an environment where everyone is empowered to directly make things happen, which gives people a deeper sense of purpose and accomplishment. It’s also essential if you want to build a successful new venture, or ensure the relevance and success of an existing organization in this rapidly changing world.

He showed us all how to be daring, care about the details, and make big things happen.

Thank you, Steve. We love you and miss you.