Who Will Be the Next Steve Jobs?

Steve and Steve ... as Legos
Much has been written about Steve Jobs over the past few weeks. I have been wondering, who will be the next Steve Jobs? Who will be the next person to change the world as dramatically as he did?

My goal with this post is to inspire you to develop at least three qualities he had that enabled him to transform the world. Some of this he may have had innately, but all three traits are things that you can (and should) develop. They apply regardless of your business or who your customers are—internal or external.

Trait #1: Anticipate Future Needs

You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they'll want something new. (Steve Jobs, 1989 Inc. magazine interview)

We need to anticipate our customers' future needs. Or, in a word, we should innovate. This means thoughtfully considering what the future will look like and what gaps will exist. It means having the confidence to develop something bold that may never have been done before. It means being artistic instead of just efficient.

It is worth pointing out that this can't be done by simply being data-driven. For example, if a company notices that a product line is selling well, that doesn't necessarily mean that they ought to double-down on that product line. Historical data will only tell us what already happened. It won't tell us what our customers' needs will be tomorrow.

If you're a consultant or your customers are internal, this may mean providing answers to questions your customers haven't asked yet. It certainly means that you can't rest on your past successes. It means you have to continue to shift what you do and how you do it.

Trait #2: Focus on Customer Experience

This video has made the rounds, but it is an example of why this second trait is important.


That hurt, didn't it? I hasten to add that this mindset is common at every level in business. It is not intended as a knock against Steve Ballmer or Microsoft. From today's perspective, the flaws in this response are painfully clear.

Ballmer saw a revolutionary competitor product and responded by saying they aren't worried because they have a phone, too: "It'll do music. It'll do email. It'll do instant messaging."

The difference between how Jobs and Ballmer were thinking is made clear in that statement. Ballmer emphasized what his device will do. Jobs emphasized the customer's experience. Ballmer thought of a customer solution as a combination of features or products. Jobs thought of a customer solution as something that seamlessly fit into their life and met needs.

Love. True love.
The difference is emotion: Jobs wanted customers to create an emotional attachment with his products.

In the case of consumer products, we have to look at experience more than capabilities. Customers don't want a device that does things; they want a device that enables them to do things. Notice that the specs for the iPhone were rarely advertised. Experiences were advertised. The iPhone was meant to be easy and fun.

In the case of internal customers or consulting clients, we need to provide services and products that seamlessly fit into their workstream and meet their needs. This means putting ourselves in our customers' shoes and considering what their pain points are. Why don't they accept our recommendations? We need to provide more than a combination of answers or services. We need to provide one service that meets their many needs seamlessly and naturally. They should begin to wonder how they would function without us.

Customers will pay a premium for solutions to which they can become emotionally attached. We have found that if our "solutions" are just a bundle of features, though, they will quickly become a commodity.

Trait #3: Simplicity

That's been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains. (Steve Jobs, 1998 Business Week interview)
In business, it's tempting to try to do everything. At every level, though, we have to decide what we're good at, decide what we're going to do, and then do that thing very well. Streamlining allows us to focus on what we can excel at.

You might be genuinely good at doing multiple things. Simplicity requires that you demonstrate real vision by selecting just one.

I love this great article by Marc Randolph, the former CEO of Netflix. He was responding to Netflix's recent move to separate their streaming and DVD services. He recalls how often Netflix made tough decisions to cut off streams of revenue in order to focus.
At every product meeting, in addition to figuring out what to do, we made sure to devote time toward deciding what not to do.  We referred to it as “scraping the barnacles”, and, like boat owners, found that if we had the discipline to regularly remove all the small things that inevitably accreted to our hull over time, it would have a noticeable effect on how fast we could move through the water.
This will sound familiar if you've seen the video of  Steve Jobs taking criticism shortly after returning to Apple and deciding to kill some of the company's projects. As companies and as individuals, we must be willing to say no even to great ideas if they will distract us. We must be willing to let go of products, services and projects. We must have the courage to have a clear mission and stick to it.

Focus on the Customer

All three of these traits require you to focus on your customers. Stop what you're doing. Pause the patterns you've established. Halt the forward momentum. Consider whether what you're doing is the best for your customer. One thing Steve Jobs proved was that focusing on the customer—considering his unspoken needs, focusing on his experience and cutting out anything distracting—is the most profitable decision a company or individual can make. It creates an emotional attachment. It is the way to build brand loyalty.

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