We can all learn a few things from Steve Jobs’ career to date, but one lesson in particular is relevant for technology chiefs the world over – the importance of employees in the innovation cycle.
A leader’s energy is what drives employees to voice their ideas and, crucially, put them into practice. When Jobs rejoined Apple, the clear communication of his creative ideas turned the company’s business around and in doing so, established a strong base of loyal and creative employees – this will be pivotal in taking the company to the next level of innovation now that he is stepping down.
In an interview last year, Jobs said: “You have to be run by ideas, not hierarchy. The best idea must win, not the ‘best person’ with the most power or seniority.” He believes that great ideas don’t necessarily come from the most senior people, but that everyone within a company has something to contribute to that company’s development. Putting Apple employees first and empowering them to understand their own value has helped the company to produce one ground-breaking, beautiful product after another.
It is another well-reported anecdote that Jobs doesn’t believe in research, at least in the context of product development at Apple. He believed the products he was creating were so new that consumers would have no reference points to judge whether they were good or bad, useful or useless. For example he believed that showing someone a calculator wouldn’t give them any indication as to where the computer was going to go because it was just too big a leap for most of us to imagine.
He has a point – if you’d have asked most consumers five years ago if they could imagine using a touch screen laptop with no keyboard and no USB ports, most would have said no, and certainly would have found it hard to conceive of a time when such a device would be one of the most desirable objects in the world.
Jobs believes in the ‘big leap’, that the winners of the future would be those who are creating something never seen before. Instead of looking outside the company for information and judgement, Jobs put his faith in his team and inspired them to come up with concepts that have truly changed the way we live and work.
Jobs realised what many employers don’t – that employees are the real creators of value in any organisation. More companies should follow Apple’s lead and empower employees to solve problems and to innovate in order to grow the business. This requires visionary leadership and happy employees. There needs to be better communication from the ground up, as well as the top down, in businesses hoping to achieve this.
It would be fair to say that Jobs is obsessed with innovation, but let’s hope that continues at Apple, no doubt under his continued guidance in his new role as chairman of the Board. I’m sure we’ll be hearing from him again, but for now I’d like to wish him all the best for the future, and thank him for inspiring a generation of technology business leaders.
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