Steve Jobs is one of the most innovative entrepreneurs in history. He transformed seven industries over an illustrious career. Personal computing, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, retail stores, and digital publishing were all impacted by the creations of the Apple and Pixar teams he led.
Many experts debate what the source of his ingenuity and innovative thinking was. Was it his drive to “make a dent in the universe?” Maybe. His motivation of building empires that improved the world around him did inspire him, but this drive doesn’t explain how he made his breakthroughs. So was it his love of design?
Indeed, great attention to aesthetics, functionality, and simplicity led to many of his successful products, and design was the guiding philosophy of how Jobs worked with his management and R & D teams. But design does not address the fundamental way he found great opportunities for Apple and Pixar. To understand how Jobs designed great products for his companies, you have to go a layer deeper. You have to understand how Jobs found problems to direct his teams’ efforts.
In Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson starts the book sharing how the entrepreneur approached him for the idea of writing his biography. Isaacson had invited Jobs to a summer conference at the Aspen Institute in Colorado. Jobs agreed to come, but he didn’t want to speak at the conference. He wanted to go there to take a walk and talk about something very personal with the author. Isaacson thought that was a bit strange, but he discovered that taking a walk with Jobs was serious business.
Walks were when he would think through with others what his next big projects would be or how to work through the issues with current projects he was completing. At other times in his career, he took walks with Bill Gates to discuss an Apple partnership with Microsoft, or he walked around his neighborhood before dinner with technology experts from industries he was thinking about entering.
In this case, it was to have his authorized biography written before he died.
What was Jobs doing on these walks? He was thinking deeply about what challenges he wanted to pursue. He was problem finding.
Let’s learn how Jobs found interesting problems to solve by looking at the iPhone, one of his most iconic products.
The iPhone was such a revolutionary product that when it first launched a lot of the business press and industry experts thought it would be a complete failure. Many complained that the iPhone had a solid screen on its entire face.
They thought that smartphone users liked the tactile sensation and surety of button pushing, and that customers would reject the new invention. But that’s exactly the problem Jobs was trying to address with the iPhone.
He reimagined the smartphone industry by asking the question, “How might we create a phone that is more interactive and has more space for visuals?”
He solved a new problem in the phone industry that others had overlooked. And as a result, customers loved it. As Isaacson reports, “By the end of 2010, Apple had sold ninety million iPhones, and it reaped more than half of the total profits generated in the global cell phone market”
Once Jobs got his head around a challenge he wanted to pursue, he would direct all his energy to understand everything he could about it.
With regard to the iPhone, solving the full screen problem would require learning a lot about new materials, supply chains, software, and hardware. At this point, he tasked his team and himself with finding out all they could about the issues related to the problem he was trying to solve. We call this “fact finding,” But as history shows, thinking hard about what challenges you want to pursue can pay off by sending you down a path others have overlooked.
Jobs was always searching for that problem his competitors weren’t willing to address.
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