Walter Isaacson wrote a great biography of Steve Jobs. Isaacson, CEO of the Aspen Institute and former CEO of CNN and Managing Editor of Time, wrote a truly inspiring book about one of the most intriguing CEOs of our times. Many leadership lessons can be learned from this book. Isaacson distilled them for an article in the April 2012 issue of Harvard Business Review in which he summarized the 14 leadership lessons of Steve Jobs.

In the book he writes that Jobs always set clear priorities. Together with his team he made an action list, prioritized the action items and then crossed off the lower items, only to keep the top three. When Isaacson was in Amsterdam in April 2012 to speak at the John Adams Institute I asked him to select the most important three lessons from those 14. He selected the following:

  1. Passion first.

Steve Jobs wanted to ‘put a dent in the universe’. His passion was to make ‘insanely great’ products that really mattered to people, without compromise. ‘He never spoke of profit maximization or cost trade-offs’, Isaacson writes in HBR. He didn’t allow sales and marketing to become more important than product development within Apple because, in his view, that would be the end of everything. Profits will follow passion.

  1. Beauty matters. The ultimate beauty is simplicity.

Jobs always strived for beauty, from the glass screen of the iPhone to the gentle slope of the bottom edge of the iPad. His perfectionism was great for consumers but a nuisance to individuals around him. For example he hardly had any furniture in his home because he couldn’t decide what to buy. His wife wanted a couch but, as she said, before buying it you needed to have a two-year conversation about the theory of a couch.

Isaacson: “Jobs aimed for the simplicity that comes from conquering, rather than merely ignoring, complexity. Achieving this depth of simplicity, he realized, would produce a machine that felt as if it deferred to users in a friendly way, rather than challenging them.” He always wanted to remove clutter, eliminate excess navigational screens and buttons. As a consequence he even eliminated the on/off button on the iPad. It gradually powers down when unused and springs to life when reengaged.

  1. Stay hungry, stay foolish.

Jobs was ‘a hippie, a rebel, a spiritual seeker, a phone phreaker, and an electronic hobbyist all wrapped into one’, Isaacson writes. In his twenties, he stayed in an Indian ashram and stimulated his imagination with LSD. Bill Gates should have done the same in his view; then the products of Microsoft might have ended up a tad more imaginative and beautiful. For the ‘Think Different’ campaign of Apple the message was: ‘Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.’ Dixit Steve Jobs.

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