I recently picked up Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. I’m not an Apply fanboy, but I am a huge fan of Walter Isaacson’s biographies, so I gave it a read. As usual the story was fascinating and incredibly well researched and told. First and foremost, I was surprised to learn how huge of a jerk Steve Jobs was, but there were also tons of business lessons to learn in addition to being entertained. I’m not going to try and summarize the book, but I thought i’d try and focus on a few of the points that are relevant to e-commerce that we could gain insights from.
1. Nothing is impossible. I don’t mean this in a wishy washy “follow your dreams!” way, but in a practical way. Jobs repeatedly managed to create products that his engineers told him couldn’t be made. He simply ignored them and told them to do it. Over and over again, they pulled it off! So as I’m reading the insane challenges they had to overcome for the sake of style or ascetics, I’m thinking of all the things I’ve put on the back burner because I thought it was impossible to do. For example, I use my e-commerce platform as an excuse to not add new features on a weekly basis. What if I worked with the mindset that anything could be done in technology? How would my strategies change?
2. It doesn’t matter if you change the world, arrogance and hubris will knock you down. Before I read this book I had heard the short story: Jobs hires new CEO, new CEO fires Jobs. This seemed nuts in that context, but the reality was that Steve Jobs had become so erratic and unreasonable that the board was truly left no other option. It just goes to show you that no matter what you’ve achieved, a good dose of humility will always serve you better than arrogance.
3. Surround yourself with people smarter than you. Steve Jobs didn’t create the first Apple computer, Steve Wozniak did, he also wasn’t the creative genius behind Pixar’s success, that was John Lasseter. What Jobs was able to do though, was surround himself with “A players” and get them to achieve amazing things. This is great news for all of us! If we can recruit the right people then we can achieve much greater things than we think we can.
4. The customer isn’t always right. There’s a famous quote where Jobs said “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them”. This is very true in many cases, especially in today’s constantly evolving world. Don’t be discouraged by people telling you your store design is bad or your offerings aren’t good. It may take time for your vision to be accepted.
5. Question deeply what you outsource. Apple of course is famous for being a closed system. They control everything from the factory to the retail store where you buy their product. There are many drawbacks and benefits to this approach. What side do you come down on with your business? Do you want to control everything? From fulfillment to customer service to even where you’ll sell it? Or are you looking to spread the tasks around and outsource as much as possible? Looking at Microsoft and Apple as an example of the two approaches might give you some new insights.
There are plenty of other lessons to learn in this book. I somehow managed to read all 579 pages in one week so it’s definitely hard to put down. It’s so inspiring to read about titans like this that were able to achieve so much, if you like to study masters of business, pick this book up ASAP!