Steve Jobs will no doubt go down in history as one of the great American inventors and innovators, alongside Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.
But like many of the brilliant minds in history, Jobs had his imperfections. Some close to him might even say that he was difficult and at times unnecessarily rude and controlling.
The newly released Danny Boyle-Aaron Sorkin movie “Steve Jobs” covers the years of the Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) co-founder’s life when some of these harsher qualities were much more prevalent than in the last years of Jobs’ life, when he had mellowed, grew wiser and had his greatest successes.
Looking beyond the personal and business qualities of Steve Jobs, what will be some of the timeless and universal lessons that will remain years or decades from now?
Here are the top five Steve Jobs lessons:
1. You can’t create the future by giving customers what they want.
Consumers today don’t always know what they want and Steve Jobs was one of the first in business to see this.
Fifteen years ago, the iPod didn’t exist yet; just 10 years ago, there was no such thing as an iPhone; and it was five years ago that the iPad hit stores. There was no clear demand for these products before they hit the market. Now there are millions of people around the world who don’t know how they lived without these products before they existed. Here’s Jobs’ philosophy on this idea:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
Jobs trusted himself more than others and this is how the great artists and businessmen have succeeded throughout history.
2. Strike a balance between art and science.
Going all the way back to the early forms of the Mac computer, Jobs had a knack of marrying art and science. And it is no mystery that he made a point of hiring people from varied backgrounds, from the fields of art to history and technology.
There are even people not employed by Apple, such as designers of apps, that are constantly creating new uses for Apple products like the iPhone. It’s the artful side of Apple’s products that give them the distinctive human feel, which is why they stand out from other tech products.
3. Surround yourself with talented people.
Apple is much more than Steve Jobs. At the core, Jobs was an idea person and a philosopher. He knew himself and he knew what he wanted, but he was wise enough – especially in the last years of his life – to surround himself with talented people that could run the varied operations, even in his absence.
These are people like Phil Schiller, Jony Ive, Peter Oppenheimer and Jobs’ successor, Tim Cook. In his latter years, Jobs was more of a figurehead than a manager. The fact that Apple’s stock price has been so strong since Jobs left as CEO is a credit not only to Jobs’ vision for Apple, but to the strength of talent he surrounded himself with.
4. Live as though you were dying.
Ten years ago, Jobs was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was told he only had a few weeks to live. This life-changing news came eight years before he would die from the disease. Here is a piece of his now famous Stanford commencement speech, given the same year he was diagnosed with cancer:
“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. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
Not long after giving this speech, the iPhone would be introduced to the world.
5. Be a rebel.
Jobs was somewhat of a hippie in his youth. His harsher business qualities may have been mistaken for a passionate person who thinks outside of the box and is willing to do whatever it takes to turn his ideas into reality. Some may call this rebellion. Think back to Apple’s “Think Different” ads, which Jobs helped write after returning as CEO of Apple:
“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. …
While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”
Was Jobs describing himself in these lines? No matter his intention, the lesson is clear that the people who are willing and able to think beyond the bounds of conventional wisdom tend to be the most successful.
And if Jobs were alive today, he would probably end this lesson by urging you not to follow in his path but to form your own path and stay on it, no matter how far off of the main road it takes you.
Kent Thune is the owner of an investment advisory firm in Hilton Head Island, S.C. He does not hold any of the aforementioned securities. Under no circumstances does this information represent a recommendation to buy or sell securities.
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