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1-on-1: How to Think Like Steve Jobs

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs built a $50 billion business and revolutionized the computer, music and cell phone industries. His resignation and subsequent death on Oct. 5. 2011 left many wondering whether Apple will continue to be creative without its top innovator.

In The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs: Insanely Different Principles for Breakthrough Success , author Carmine Gallo examines the way Jobs changed the way we use computers, listen to music and stay connected.

SUCCESS: Did Jobs create an inventive enough culture for the company to excel without him?

Carmine Gallo: From everything I’ve heard and everything I know about Apple, the people who have been essentially running the show for the last few years, they live and breathe the Steve Jobs ethos, his principles.

All of the analysts I’ve talked to—people who really cover Apple as a business and look at it very carefully—believe that culture is still very much alive and well and will continue to thrive for several years.

When you look down the line, if they eventually hire people who do not have that same vision, then of course that’s a completely different story.

What does it really mean to innovate?

CG: Innovation is something that’s good for everybody. It’s simply a new way of doing business that results in positive change for society, your industry or your own company.

You say the word innovation intimidates most people. Why?

CG: Most people don’t see themselves as innovators. That’s why I think we need to change the mindset. If you’re an entrepreneur of any type, a small-business owner of any type, regardless of what industry you’re in or if you just graduated from college, you have to see yourself as your own brand. Apple is a large, important brand, but so are you; you are an important brand in and of yourself. It’s important that individuals see themselves as a brand. How do we innovate around that brand? How do we create new methods, new products, new services, new ways of doing things that will move the company forward? That’s why I think innovation applies to everybody. Let’s not be afraid of that word.

You write often in the book about “thinking differently” as a prerequisite for innovation. Can this be taught or is it innate?

CG: I think that falls under the third principle in the book: “Kick-start your brain.” It means think creatively and simply.

Harvard did a six-year study on creative people. One of the big things they learned was that creative people do what’s called association, which means they associate ideas from different fields and they apply those ideas to their field.

Steve Jobs was doing this his entire life. He told us that a person who has a broad set of experiences can often see things that others miss. What he meant is he pursued a lot of interests that had nothing to do with computers or technology.

A lot of people forget that if it wasn’t for the Macintosh in 1984, we’d still be typing line commands. I exaggerate a little, but he’s the first one who saw computers as having beautiful fonts and typefaces.

The reason why that came to him was that when he was 19, he dropped out of college and took courses he really wanted to take—like calligraphy. His parents were like, ‘Steve, we really want you to go to college.’ From what I understand, his parents were pretty upset about the decision [to drop out], but Steve said, ‘You know, I’m bored with these mandatory classes. I want to take classes that I’m interested in.’

By opening himself up to completely different experiences, but just pursuing what he was interested in, knowing that these ideas would connect at some point in his life, he actually gave us one of the most magical tools that we use. And that came to him from taking a class.

You also propose the idea of saying no to 1,000 things. What does that mean and how does a business owner know which things are no’s and which are yeses?

CG: It applies to everything—the way you live your life, the way you run your business. A lot of people forget that in 1997, when Steve Jobs returned to Apple, it was only a few months away from bankruptcy. The first thing he did was streamline the number of products they sold. He said, ‘You have to put your A team on every product.’ You can’t put your A team on every product when you have 300 products. At the time, they had something like 300 products or 300 iterations of products.

Within two years he streamlined that to 10 products. To this day you can actually take all of Apple’s products and put them on a small coffee table, which is pretty extraordinary for a $50-billion-a-year business.

‘Innovation,’ he said, ‘is saying no to 1,000 things,’ so you can really focus on what matters. He already told us the secret to innovation. We don’t have to guess.

Will the economic situation force more businesses to simplify?

CG: Absolutely. People are starting to learn that Apple’s doing something right, especially in the area of simplifying products so that people get enjoyment out of them. No one likes complex solutions. Nobody likes too many buttons and too many items on products. That’s the new trend on websites, eliminating the clutter, making things simpler.

There are examples of companies that look at Apple and then ask themselves, What can we remove? Can we make this product easier to use? Can we make the website easier to navigate? Can we put fewer options on our call centers? Everyone’s looking at how to make business simple. By being simple and elegant and user friendly, you actually stand out from the competition.

How does a business owner create an innovative culture that will carry on?

CG: There are two main things: employees and customers. Let’s look at employees.

Give your team the freedom to be creative, the freedom to develop and pitch new and exciting ideas. Apple has developed a culture of fearlessness. At the Apple stores, for example, the employees are encouraged to speak to their management and pitch radical new ideas about how to do things better in the stores. Most companies don’t operate that way. People are afraid to speak up and afraid of losing their jobs. That to me doesn’t sound like a terribly innovative culture.

Jobs once said what made the Mac successful was that the people working on it were historians and artists and poets in addition to being great computer scientists. Apple knows that celebrating diversity and hiring people with a broad set of experiences will lead to innovative and creative ideas and a team-like atmosphere that they can’t get if they have employees fit within a checklist. Most companies do not do that. They do not look for diversity.

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