To mark the passing of one of the world’s all-time great innovators, some of the leaders of Innosight are reflecting on what Steve Jobs taught us. He leaves as his legacy a set of lessons about innovation that will continue to inspire us for generations to come. These are just eight of the main takeaways from his remarkable career and life:
1. The zen of knowing what customers want without actually asking them
One of our favorite Steve Jobs quotes came as his answer to the question: What market research did you do that led to the iPad? “None,” he replied. “It’s not the customer’s job to know what they want.”
Innosight co-founder and Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen says that Steve Jobs helped teach us to shun focus group-type research and instead carefully observe what people are trying to do, not just functionally but socially and emotionally too. “His instinct was not to focus on the customer, but rather to focus his innovations on the job that the customer is trying to do.”
2. A passion for breakthrough experiences
In a world without Steve Jobs, we might still look at computers and phones as utilitarian tools. But Matthew Eyring, Innosight’s managing partner, says that Jobs turned them into objects of desire by channeling his “passion to blend art, design, and technology to create breakthrough customer experiences.”
That passion made all the difference in the way we feel about Apple and its products. “Using one of his products was akin to having an ongoing dialogue with someone who actually knew what a great customer experience was,” adds Eyring, “and he cared obsessively about delivering it.”
Innosight principal Josh Suskewicz says that this lesson can be applied to almost any business. “You can always ask ‘what would Steve Jobs do?’ when working on innovation projects because it is essentially shorthand for saying ‘are we absolutely certain that what we’re designing will delight our customer?’”
3. A holistic approach to innovation
While Apple is best known for product innovation, Steve Jobs focused just as much innovation on the business systems that turned mere products them into profit-spinning enterprises.
“Apple makes cool gadgets, for sure,” says Scott Anthony, managing director of Innosight Asia-Pacific. “But Steve Jobs also developed highly innovative revenue models (99 cents for digital songs), created entirely new channels (iTunes and the App Store), re-thought the in-store retail experience (the Apple Store), and developed innovative advertising approaches. Innovation isn’t just about bells and whistles – it’s about new ways to create, deliver, and capture value.”
4. A radical approach to simplicity
When the first iPod came out, the elegant click wheel made it seem revolutionary.
Innosight venture partner Hari Nair says the lesson is expressed best in his favorite quote from Jobs: “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
5. Failure as the only path to success
After Steve Jobs was fired from Apple at age 30, he picked himself up and started NeXT, which turned into a spectacular failure as well as the launching pad for the Apple renaissance. “A powerful lesson from his life is that we must not be afraid to fail,” says Innosight principal Robyn Bolton. “In fact, we should be willing to fail, to fail grandly, and then to learn from it, adjust, and try again.”
6. Iconoclastic thinking
Jobs was a counterintuitive revolutionary who made “think different” the motto of his company, supported by posters of history’s iconoclasts, from Gandhi to Einstein to Picasso. Innosight principal Tim Gustafson attributes this powerful competitive advantage to Jobs’ relentless questioning, always asking: “Why do we always do it that way?” Innosight partner Kevin Bolen agrees. “He made a discipline of unconventional thinking.”
His counterintuitive thinking often sent rivals into deep fits of confused denial. Innosight principal Alasdair Trotter cites his favorite quote from Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer, who in January 2007 dismissed the first iPhone: “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance. It’s a $500 subsidized item…It is the most expensive phone in the world and it doesn’t appeal to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard which makes it not a very good email machine.”
Natalie Painchaud, Innosight’s director of client learning, notes that Jobs didn’t focus on what other people think he should be doing but rather trusted his own intuition, as he so eloquently stated at Stanford: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.”
7. An unconventional view of innovation management
While many business leaders cite Jobs as a model for how to manage innovation, Jobs’ own role models came from outside the world of business. And at the top of his list were John, Paul, George and Ringo. “My model for business is the Beatles,” Jobs said in a 2008 interview on 60 Minutes. “They were four guys who kept each other’s negative tendencies in check; they balanced each other. And the total was greater than the sum of the parts.”
A lifelong Beatles fanatic, Jobs wasn’t just talking about the wisdom in their songs but about strategies for turning out innovations that are as insanely great as Beatles albums. “Apple is a very collaborative company,” he once explained an interviewer. “We have zero committees but lots of teams.” All through Apple’s comeback years, Jobs met with each of these talent-rich groups once a week. “What I do all day is meet with teams of people,” he said. “We have wonderful arguments. But we trust people to come through with their parts, and to bring it all together into a product.”
8. Disrupting your own market
While most companies have a tendency to invest in their successful core business, Jobs was always seeking ways to disrupt Apple’s own market with cheaper, simpler solutions—the iPad being a prime example.
“He was one out of 1,000 entrepreneurs, who having tasted success, are able to profitably figure out how to cannibalize his own products before others did,” says Dick Foster, Innosight’s lead director.
All this is why “Steve Jobs will remain for decades, and perhaps centuries to come, a role model for the spirit of America, the spirit of entrepreneurism and the spirit of the better life that entrepreneurs allow all of us to enjoy through their cleverness, their cunning and their drive,” Foster continues. “He is a role model for the youth of the world. He was made for America, and America was made for Steve Jobs.”