12 Lessons That Steve Jobs Taught by Guy Kawasaki

Guy Kawasaki, author, speaker, investor and business advisor, here shares 12 lessons he learned from Steve Jobs while working at Apple.  This is a transcript of the keynote speech he made at Silicon Valley Bank’s CEO Summit on October 6, 2011.




Good morning. Although arguably it’s not a good morning because the passing of Steve Jobs is definitely left a large hole in the universe. And I worked for him from 1983 to 1987 and then from 1995 to 1997, I worked for Apple again. And just as he came back towards the end of 1997, so we overlapped again. So arguably I am one of the few people in the world who worked for Steve Jobs twice and survived. So I consider it an honor to have worked for him. He fundamentally changed my life. He changed the lives of many Apple employees and he also changed the life I think of many, many people in the computer business, in the phone business, in the tablet business, in many places in the music business.

So if you look at your agenda, I am supposed to give a speech today about how to enchant people, how to be an enchanting person – to change people’s hearts, minds and actions. But because of Steve’s of death yesterday, this morning I wrote a completely new speech. And so you’re not going to see what’s on the agenda. I have a speech that’s sort of dedicated to what I learned from Steve Jobs and I think the lessons of Steve Jobs that you can apply to your startups. Because fundamentally Steve was arguably the world’s greatest CEO, the world’s greatest entrepreneur. I don’t think anybody did anymore for his customers or shareholders or employees as Steve Jobs. Truly, truly no one has done more.

So I have compiled the top 12 lessons that I learned and that I think all of you can apply to your companies. And so I have 12 key points – usually I have 10 – so there’s a little bit of inflation in my speech. I use the top 10 format because in the last two and half decades I have seen so many high tech executives speak and I can tell you there are two key points about high-tech speakers other than you of course. The two key points are they suck and they go long. And that’s a bad combination. If you suck and you’re short, it’s okay. And if you’re good and you go long, it’s ok but if you suck and go long, it’s like being stupid and arrogant.  It’s a bad combination. So these are my lessons that I learned from Steve Jobs and I think that you can apply as entrepreneurs.

Lesson 1: Experts are clueless

If you start listening to the so-called experts, the A listers, the journalists, the analysts, they cannot help you as entrepreneurs. They’re going to tell you to do better sameness, to do what everybody else thinks is right. They’re going to tell you what their concept is often from a very arrogant point of view. Usually they are disconnected from customers. I cannot tell you – Steve Jobs did not listen to experts. Quite the contrary experts listened to him. And you could make the case that, that’s even more true today because of social media, that the Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus you can get so much closer to people so much faster that listen to the interpretation of experts and the pronouncements of experts is an absolute mistake. And I learned this from Steve. I watched him in action.

Experts are clueless, especially people who declare themselves experts. You meet someone who calls himself or herself a social media expert or guru, that’s the person to avoid. As an entrepreneur, you’re going to have to figure stuff out by yourself. Don’t rely on others. So that’s first thing.

Lesson 2: Customers cannot tell you what they need

If we had asked customers in 1983 what they needed, they would’ve said I need a bigger, faster, cheaper Apple 2, or I need a bigger faster cheaper MS-DOS machine. No one would have said give us a cute little graphics toy that was slow, that had no software thanks to me, that couldn’t use any of the industry standards, which had a little mouse instead of cursor keys that had a graphical user interface with a trash can in the lower right hand corner. No one could have described that.

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And so you can ask customers about how to evolve something that you’ve already shipped, how to make a revolution better. But I don’t think you can ask a customer how to create a revolution, because customers are going to describe what they want in terms of better, cheaper, 10% improvement. If you truly want to change the world, if you truly want to be the great entrepreneur you cannot listen to customers, honestly. The day that you hear that Apple is using focus-groups to decide on its future products, that’s the day to short Apple’s stock. I tell you right now customers cannot tell you what they need.

Lesson 3: The biggest challenges beget best work

Quite to the perhaps people’s surprise what I learned at Macintosh division working with those hundred or so other great people was that we rose to the occasion. We did our best work in our careers because we were presented with the biggest challenge. And so rather than trying to break things down into bite size small little things, I think you should give your employees and your co-founders magnificent challenges, just challenges because that’s truly why and how you get the best work out of people.

Now if you ask an employee of Apple, why do they put up with some of, shall I say, the challenges of working at Apple, they will tell you that despite all the challenges the reason why they work at Apple is because Apple enables you to do the best work of your career. And so if you provide your employees with this challenge, a big challenge they will rise up and do the best work of their career. So big challenges is what you should present.

Lesson 4: Design counts

Next thing I learned is that design counts. In a world where everybody’s talking about price, lots of people care about design. Lots of people do. And this is something that’s probably contrary to what most experts will tell you. Most experts will tell you there’s a price point and people are price-sensitive and there’s this curve of demand and I think to a great degree Apple has disproved that. Design counts. There is an element of people – maybe it’s only 10% of the people but 10% of people truly care about design. So you should care about design. Don’t put out crap.

I have tried to enchant people with great stuff and I’ve tried to enchant people with crap. And let me tell you it is a lot easier to enchant people with great stuff than crap. So Don’t think of human interface and design is simply like a little layer on top of your great engineering algorithms. For what it is, it is the product for most people. It’s not the great algorithm; it’s the skin of it. That’s what counts. Design truly does count. Steve Jobs has proven that five times – Macintosh, iPhone, iPod, iPad. You could make the case that many other companies could have done what he did, starting with Xerox PARC. But let’s face it, Steve understood, Steve had the vision, Steve had this ability to anticipate what customers need before they could articulate it. Design counts.

Lesson 5: Use big graphics and big fonts

Next thing I learned is that in your presentations, it’s a very simple algorithm. Use big graphics and big font. It’s probably contrary to most of your PowerPoint presentations. You’re 8, 10 or 12, right? And you’re going to read your slide and you’re going to put up a competitive matrix and there is going to be your column and your competitor’s column and guess what your column is going to be completely checked off and your competitor’s column is going to full of holes. And that’s going to be in a 8 point font and no one can read it.

Steve Jobs puts up slides that have one word. He has slides that his minimum font size seems to be about 60 points. How many of you have slides with 60 point minimum font? Probably not many. Big graphics, big font. If you go look at the archives of Steve Jobs’ keynotes, big graphics, big font. 8 point font is out.

Lesson 6: Jump to the next curve

Next thing I learned is that if you truly want to be an entrepreneur and innovator, you have to jump curves. You don’t do things 10% better; you do things 10 times better. I’ll give you some classic examples of curve jumping. First of all, we’ll start out with a historical one. There used to be an ice harvesting business. In the ice harvesting business in the 1900s, this meant that baba and junior would go to a frozen lake or a frozen pond in the winter and cut blast of ice. And in 1909, million pounds of ice was harvested in the United States.

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33 years later was the beginning of the ice factory curve. The ice factory curve now meant that you didn’t have to be in the winter, you didn’t have to live in a cold city. You could freeze water essentially any time of year and then the iceman would deliver ice to your house. So imagine the advantage of going from ice harvester, cold city, cold time of year to ice factory, any city any time of year. Fast forward another 20 years, now we have the refrigerator curve. This is Ice 3.0. Ice 3.0 meant that you had your personal ice factory. You didn’t go to a centralized ice factory, or the centralized ice factory didn’t deliver ice to you. You had your own ice factory. You had a PC, if you will, a personal chiller.

And so if you look at this, the great values, the great innovation occurred because people went from one curve to the next curve. Actually I said that incorrectly. Very few people went from ice harvester to ice factory to refrigerator curve. Most people, they were ice harvesters, they defined their business as ice harvesting. They died as the ice harvester. Then there were ice factory curves. People on the ice factory curves defined their business as “we freeze water essentially and then we deliver it”. Those people died as ice factory. They did not become refrigerator companies. And refrigerator companies are not looking at biotech.

So one very important lesson is if you really want to change the world, you can’t necessarily do it on the curve you are on. If you’re on this particular curve and you try to do something 10% better, it’s not good enough. If you were the best daisy wheel printer company, you said, uh, next year we will be really innovative. We will introduce three more typefaces in three more font-sizes. That’s incremental.

What truly is a curve jump is to go from daisy wheel printer to laser printer. If you were the best telegraph company, it’s not they have better telegraphs. It’s to be telephone company, ice factories to refrigerator. Jump curves. It’s not about 10% better, it’s about 10 times better. Real innovation happens on the next curve, not on the curve you are on.

Lesson 7: Something works or doesn’t work

Next thing I learned is that all that really matters is something works or doesn’t work. In other words, don’t worship religions and faiths. At one point, Apple believed that a closed system would work. At one point it believed an open system would work. Apple was never sort of stuck on whether we followed the open model or the closed model. All that mattered to Apple and Steve was it either worked or didn’t work, not that it was open or not open.

A very good example with the iPhone. Many people don’t remember this. When the iPhone first came out, third-party apps were not permitted. The Apple story for a third-party app on the iPhone initially was Safari plugin. That was the answer. And the whole pitch was with the phone unlike a computer, which didn’t make any sense to me at the time – with the phone unlike a computer, a phone is a very complex thing. Lots of messages coming in, phone calls coming in on this constant data network. You don’t really want to screw around with a phone and that third-party apps  interfere with the quality of your phone experience. So we’re locking out third-party apps. If you want to do anything as a third-party developer, it has to be through our browser as a safari plugin. That was story number one with the iPhone.

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