Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Innovate like Steve Jobs

Apple co-founder Steven P Jobs is one of my personal idols. A complex and driven human being, Jobs has commanded the radical transformation of at least three different industries:

1. Personal Computer (with the Macintosh)
2. Music business (with the iPod and iTunes store and now with DRM-free music) (DRM=Digital Rights Management, encryption)
3. Mobile communications (with the iPhone)

He has also had a very significant, and arguably transformative impact on the animated film business through his formerly owned Pixar (now sold to Disney). Tiny Pixar was actually killing Giant Disney in the market, and so Disney's purchase of Pixar made a lot of sense.

Anybody who radically transforms even a single industry deserves great respect. What can one say about somebody like Jobs, then?

Note that in none of the above instances did the transformation occur due to highly innovative technology alone. Jobs' focus has always been on the business, rather than the technology, even though the technology he pushes out is novel to the bulk of his market segment (but in no way completely original). Jobs has always been the businessman who loves technology and uses it to achieve his grand aims rather than the technologist who would like to get into business. Jobs has always had a market vision for technology; the vision always comes first, and the technology then follows.

The leadership styles adopted in both Apple and Pixar are highly charismatic and personality-driven. One lesson to learn from this is that dull, drab organisations deliver dull, drab products and services. Southwest Airlines is one of the US's most successful budget airline -- perhaps the most successful budget airline. It was founded by a highly colourful CEO, Herb Kelleher. Exciting products and services come from exciting organisations. And exciting organisations are made up of exciting and excited employees. Excited employees are bursting with ideas and are motivated to effect significant -- and innovative -- changes.

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