What Steve Jobs Taught Us

InformationWeek editors weigh in on the lasting lessons of the iconic innovator.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

October 6, 2011

8 Min Read

InformationWeek's reporters and editors have covered Steve Jobs and Apple for more than a quarter century, and our parent company's executives have their own rich first-hand perspectives and experiences. In the wake of Jobs' death yesterday evening, we share some of our thoughts on his life and legacy.

My Brief Encounter With Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs changed the world. He changed the computing world, the media, music, and movie worlds. He changed the telecommunications world. Amazing.

[ InformationWeek readers reflect on How Steve Jobs Touched My Life. ]

I met him once, about a decade ago, when I was the CEO of Symbian and we had a (naive) ambition that our software would be adopted by Apple. I say "met" loosely--he did not acknowledge my presence or indeed that of a number of the people in the room who he was not engaged with.

He had tremendous focus. He had clarity and an uncompromising vision. And his rejection of the software we were selling was, with hindsight, certainly right.

He made a comment, which at the time I was astounded by, to a couple of the network operators (carriers) who were in the room with us and who were clamoring for an Apple phone. He said something like: "I will never produce an Apple phone that needs the orifices' approval. Did I say 'orifices?' Oops, I meant operators...."

I could not believe what I had heard. He was forthright, even rude.

But he was right. The decision of the operators to complicate the phones they were approving and insist on myriad redundant requirements was certainly a core reason the operators strangled Symbian, and probably Nokia too (although their hubris was probably the real cause of that company's demise). The iPhone when it came did not comply with many of the so-called requirements that we had gone through hoops to support, and it was cleaner and clearer than any Nokia or other device we produced.

But Jobs is gone now. I'm sad.

--David Levin, CEO, UBM (parent company of InformationWeek, Interop, and other tech brands)

You Too Can Change The World

In the mid '80s I was beginning my career in media and was offered two jobs: one to work on Sports Illustrated and the other to work on a business publication called Electronic Engineering Times. I surprised my wife, family, and friends by taking the EE Times job.

One of the reasons I did so: Steve Jobs' famous words to John Scully echoed in my head. "Do you want to sell sugared water to kids or do you want to change the world?"

Steve Jobs inspired me, as he did countless others, by creating a vision that technology, and in particular personal technology, was going to change the world. He was right. I was lucky enough to meet Steve and to also lead media brands that reported on his various innovations over the course of his career.

In addition to the extraordinary impact he had on technology and culture, his experiences as a leader are perhaps even more compelling. Cast off from the company he created, stepping back into the arena with another startup, and ultimately taking over Apple again was a journey of personal and professional leadership that is even more impressive than his technology innovations.

--Tony Uphoff, CEO, UBM TechWeb

Jobs Knew How To Say No

Saying No is a lost art in the technology business. The easy answer in technology is Yes--Yes to more features, more connections, more products.

Steve Jobs knew how to say No. He was focused on products Apple could do better than anyone else in the industry. Think about how long he stayed away from the mobile phone business. Apple could've knocked out a phone that was somewhat more appealing than the competition years before it came up with the iPhone. But it resisted that temptation, until it could come up with something that redefined the category--and gave Jobs the clout to say No to the terms wireless carriers imposed on phone makers.

The problem with saying No is that it makes people mad. I'm annoyed every single time something won't play on my iPad because it requires Flash, which Jobs famously refused to allow on Apple's mobile products. Saying No to customers, to partners, to bosses takes guts, the confidence to know that you're providing so much value with everything else you do that they will forgive you for not giving them this one thing they can't live without.

Jobs challenged us as business leaders to focus on work that we can do better than anyone else and not compromise on quality. Jobs laid out an even scarier challenge to people in general, famously warning Stanford University grads: "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life."

--Chris Murphy, editor, InformationWeek

He Was Certain That He Knew Better

Steve Jobs demonstrated that rebellion is good business. When computers were expensive business machines, he worked to make them inexpensive personal tools. When technology was utilitarian, he made it art. It was an ethos embodied in Apple's marketing campaign slogan from the late '90s: Think Different.

Yet it wasn't so much that he opposed the status quo; he was just certain that he knew better. Toward the end of his career, he was not one of the "crazy ones, misfits, or rebels" lauded in Apple's marketing. Rather, he was fighting to defend the integrity of his company's products by ending Mac OS licensing, restricting competitors' ability to interoperate with iTunes, and imposing strict terms on iOS developers in the name of quality.

Jobs was a singular visionary, and surely would not have enjoyed the admiration of so many were he not so consistently right.

--Tom Claburn, editor at large, InformationWeek

Jobs' Best Gift: His Impatience

Financier Bernard Baruch famously said, "I made my money by selling too soon." It could be said that Steve Jobs made his by bringing technology to market a bit too soon.

The original Mac was underpowered and lacked a hard drive. The original iPhone wasn't much good at making phone calls. And yet each sparked imagination and showed us where technology should go. Jobs took the coolest innovations of the day out of the rarefied world of research labs and made them available to everyone. No technology Apple's products used was ever new, instead, Jobs got Apple engineers to combine technologies in new ways just a little before they thought it could be done well.

Steve Jobs was a lot of things, but he wasn't patient. He knew what he wanted, and he wanted it done now. For the impatient he left behind, we lost a patron saint. Those of us similarly afflicted should strive to do so much because of it.

-- Art Wittmann, managing director, InformationWeek reports

He Learned From His Failures

The tech industry has a long history of personal setbacks and product failures, and Steve Jobs had his share of both. As we look back at his legacy, it's worth contemplating the things he got wrong, and how he responded. Apple's Lisa computer, the NeXT workstation, and the NeXT OS lie in the scrap heap of technologies that never lived up to expectations. Jobs was a college dropout, and he was forced out of the company he founded, both of which must have been tough personal experiences.

But failure breeds success, or it can, and Jobs knew enough about both to educate us all. The path to technology innovation isn't a straight line, and it certainly wasn't for Jobs. Remember that the next time your software project or cloud initiative or mobile device strategy goes down in flames.

--John Foley, editor, InformationWeek

He Sweated The Big And Small Stuff

Steve Jobs showed the world that great leaders can bring both a sweeping vision and precise, almost obsessive attention to detail. He had the ability to clearly articulate what Apple stands for and what it would be world class at developing and building, but he didn't just command and motivate from an ivory tower. He could and often did roll up his sleeves and dive into the trenches--sometimes to the chagrin of his troops, but almost always to the benefit of Apple's customers.

--Rob Preston, editor in chief, InformationWeek

A Man Emboldened By Passion

Perhaps because of his lengthy health battles, Steve Jobs became an iconic figure before his death. Some value his ability to innovate, others his attention to detail, still others his unwavering push for perfection. All of those things are worthy of the honors and accolades, and all of the words being poured into tributes. His remarkable technical, marketing, and business acumen combined puts Jobs at the pinnacle of our collective admiration.

All of those achievements are the magical outcome of a man emboldened by a passion. Despite a litany of failures, he persevered. He relentlessly pursued success, and failure was but another source of fuel. A friend of mine earlier this week said the following about Jobs: "He's a lone wolf, happiest and most fulfilled when he's patrolling and stalking the perimeters of the stuff that really intrigues him."

Should we all find such fulfillment.

--Fritz Nelson, editorial director, InformationWeek

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