Business Lessons from Steve Jobs

10 Nov

There’s no doubt in my mind that Steve Jobs was a true innovator. What lessons can small-business folks like me learn from him and apply to our businesses day to day?

Yes, Steve Jobs was a great innovator and there are several lessons we can learn from him. As I wrote on, innovation doesn’t necessarily mean invention. Too many people think only creation equals innovation — but reinvention can be just as innovative. Indeed, Jobs was an inventor, but you could argue that his true genius was in re-creating.

Jobs was also a visionary. This trait can help turn an ordinary business plan into an extraordinary business. The key to growth is to think about what your business can be, not what is. Jobs once told technology journalist Walt Mossberg that he saw Apple as a digital products company, and not as a computer company. And part of having vision is anticipating customer needs. Jobs wasn’t reactive; he was proactive, getting customers hooked on products they didn’t even know they wanted.

Remember Apple’s old marketing slogan: “Think Different.” Obviously, Jobs thought differently. And according to Hal B. Gergersen, a professor at the European Institute of Business Administration and co-author of “The Innovator’s DNA,” part of Jobs’ extraordinary success came from him being a “disruptive innovator.” The book pinpoints five traits disruptive innovators share: “questioning, experimenting, observing, associating and networking.”

In particular, Gergersen told The New York Times that associating is about making “intellectual mash-ups” — that is, getting inspired by ideas outside your industry.

Jobs excelled at that. Carmine Gallo, author of “The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs,” says Jobs strolled through the Macy’s kitchen appliances department when creating a computer “people would want in their homes.” And his biographer, Walter Isaacson (“Steve Jobs”), told “60 Minutes” that traveling through India (while on leave from his job at Atari) “informed [Jobs’] design sense … that notion that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Perhaps the most important lesson we can learn from Jobs is persistence. After getting fired from Apple in 1986, Jobs rose like the proverbial phoenix. Heed the advice he gave in a 2005 commencement address at Stanford: “Getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything … . Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.”

And in what can perhaps be considered an action plan for entrepreneurs, Jobs advised: “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition … . Be curious, experiment, take risks … . Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”

— Rieva Lesonsky

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