iView: Steve Jobs and Solving the World’s Problems

Bill Hewlett and David Packard had already retired when I began working for Hewlett-Packard in 1981. Their “HP Way” was a part of HP’s DNA. The HP Way emphasized employee empowerment, achievement, integrity, teamwork, and innovation. That same HP DNA became part of Apple and other Silicon Valley companies started by former HP employees such as Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.

Arguably, Apple today represents the ideals exemplified by Hewlett and Packard better than the current HP. With Steve Jobs’s passing, now the question becomes, can Jobs’ influence at Apple last longer and hold up more effectively than that of Hewlett and Packard?

Training the Steve Jobs WayRumor has it that Steve Jobs recruited Apple University President and former Yale Business School dean, Joel Podolny, to plan a training program. In it, company executives would be taught to think like Steve Jobs in a forum designed to impart Jobs’ DNA to future generations. I hope the rumor is true. Further, I hope that the training will be open to people outside of Apple.

Solving Problems

The genius of Steve Jobs was the ability to bring together many unconventional threads to solve difficult problems in areas where others had failed. Once solved, the solutions seem obvious. Here are some examples of Jobs’ solutions:

  • The Apple II with spreadsheet VisiCalc transformed personal computing from a hobbyist to a business enterprise.
  • The Apple Mac with its graphical user interface made personal computers accessible to the masses.
  • ITunes demonstrated that people would pay for downloadable music rather than obtaining it illegally and semi-legally for free.
  • The iPod, coupled with iTunes, replaced the Sony Walkman and the boom box to become every man’s portable music listening device and library.
  • The iPhone and iPod touch became the first truly successful mass-marketed smart phone and PDA. (I elaborate on this below.)
  • The iPad became the first successful mass marketed tablet computer.
  • Siri and iPhone 4S pushed the envelope for smart devices using voice recognition as their primary input method.

Struggling to Create a Smartphone for the Masses

Today we take the iPhone’s success for granted. From 1991 through 2007, high-tech companies knew the usefulness and broad appeal of carrying a small device with full computing power. However, through those years HP, Palm, Microsoft, Psion, RIM and many other companies made large investments manufacturing hundreds of different PDAs and smart phones without mass market success.

The Success of the iPhone

So, how did Jobs succeed with the iPhone? The answer can be found in Apple’s moniker, “Think different.” Here are some of ways the iPhone broke the mold. Each way deviated from the popular 2007 mindset about what was technically and logistically possible, and what was required to produce a successful mass-marketed smart phone. These points seem obvious now, but they weren’t obvious a few years back:

  • The user experience always comes first and is more important than any product feature.
  • The design, the look, and the feel of the phone are fundamental to its broad acceptance.
  • Only one phone network (AT&T in the U.S.).
  • Only one manufacturer of hardware and software (Apple).
  • Apple, not the phone company, is in charge.
  • All users should be able to painlessly upgrade the operating system as soon as a new version is available.
  • No outside software allowed to be installed (when the original iPhone launched).
  • Once apps were permitted to be installed, Apple approved and distributed every single one of them.
  • No stylus – a touch screen is for touching.
  • No replaceable battery.
  • No memory card.
  • One proprietary USB connection used for charging and syncing.
  • The iPod, not a PDA, was the basis of the iPhone. Everyone enjoys music and makes phone calls. From there, other smart features are gradually absorbed by the user.
  • The iPhone is iTunes-centric—iTunes is required for initialization, upgrades, entertainment, installing apps, communication with desktop, etc.
  • No leaks about future products.
  • Full functioning web browser (except for Flash).
  • Apple controls entire ecosystem—“my way or the highway” for all partners, suppliers, developers, retailers, and even end users.

Are there Jobsian solutions for climate change, massive debt, terrorism, war, energy independence, cancer, poverty?

Think DifferentI personally believe that all problems have solutions. The best solutions eliminate the problem the same way that light eliminates the problem of darkness. Today’s problems seem insurmountable because no solution has yet been found… if the solution had been found, there wouldn’t be the problem. Solving challenging problems requires the Steve Jobs approach. You have to “Think different.”Watch the (never-released) version of Apple’s wonderful, Think Different commercial narrated by Steve Jobs. Then get inspired: youtube/8rwsuXHA7RA.

January-February 2012
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