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June 16, 2010 - Issue #109

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What Steve Jobs Taught Me

Longtime readers know that I've used Macintosh computers since 1986. For years I spoke at Macworld Expos, and Apple was a key consulting client for nearly a decade. Some of my closest friendships grew out of my involvement in the Macintosh community.

So, yes I know about Steve Jobs' "reality distortion field" -- his uncanny ability to persuasively bend your way of thinking to his. I've heard the stories of his impatience with anything less than perfection, and his demands for absolute control and privacy. Yet of all the modern-day CEOs, Jobs consistently delivers a memorable consumer experience. He recently sat down with Wall Street Journal tech editors Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, and spoke for 90 minutes (an eternity for someone so precise about his public messaging). The full interview can be found here.

Watching Jobs, I began to reflect on what I've learned from watching him lead Apple over the past decade. Soloists can learn from his focused and nimble approach.

1. Do one thing extraordinarily well, and don't apologize for it.
Jobs understands that Apple can't be all things to all people. His goal is to lead a team that merges cutting-edge technology and exquisite design to create products that delight. He knows that Apple will never attain the market share of other computer companies, but that doesn't phase him. He'd rather influence the industry. "We never thought of ourselves in a platform war with Microsoft," he observes. "We just always ask ourselves, 'How can we make a much better product?'"

2. Aesthetics matter.
From its earliest days, Apple was noted for its design. Back in the 1980s, that was not recognized as the competitive advantage it is today. Detail matters, and a design style communicates a powerful silent message about everything you do.

3. Ride the wave.
While I've never heard him speak about it, it's clear that Jobs understands generational consumer patterns. After years of trying to sell Macs to various audiences, it was the iPod --- and its appeal to younger customers -- that drove the sale of Macs. Once teenagers had experienced the design and engineering of an Apple music device, they migrated to more complex and expensive laptops. And once they became customers (and grew older, with more discretionary income), they were more likely to continue buying other Apple products.

4. Leverage the unexpected.
Three years ago, the Apple store for iPhone apps didn't exist. Last week Jobs announced that the company had written the equivalent of a $1 billion check to developers for their share of app sales. Jobs understands that devices -- whether the iPhone, the iPad, or others to come -- hold potential that no one can see from today's vantage point. What's required is a nimbleness to respond to market changes and to maximize unexpected opportunities.

I realize that there are many who view the Mac as a "cult," and that Apple is overhyped. I think all would agree, however, that there are some entrepreneurial qualities that Apple has mastered better than anyone else -- at least for now. As soloists, we can all watch and learn as these lessons play out every day in the marketplace.

-- Terri Lonier
Founder, WorkingSolo.com

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Working Solo Minute is published each Wednesday by Working Solo, Inc. and is based on the work of author and entrepreneurial expert Terri Lonier. Copyright 1994-2010. All rights reserved.
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