Steve Jobs = Thomas Edison + Walt Disney + Henry Ford + Sam Walton
I first met Steve Jobs in 1985, at one of the low points in his life, after John Sculley took over leadership of Apple Computer from him. We were at a conference and took a short walk in the desert together after dinner. Steve was barely 30 and neither of us had any idea of what he was going to go on to accomplish. I wish I remember what we discussed. Over the next few days, many people will be comparing him to other successful business leaders. Here is my comparison.
Like Thomas Edison he was a great inventor, and not just of things but of new systems. Both Jobs and Edison created new complex systems. Edison created electric power, the devices to use it and the transmission network for it. Jobs created electronic media power, the devices to use it, and the distribution network for it. Like Walt Disney he created new animation. Disney did it with cartoons and Jobs did it with Pixar. Like Henry Ford he pioneered simplicity in products, low-cost manufacturing, making these products available for the masses. Like Sam Walton he created new retail distribution. Walton did it with an emphasis on low-cost high-volume retail for the masses. Jobs created new online retail distribution of electronic media. iTunes is the largest music store in the world, sells more applications software than anyone else, and is gaining momentum in books and movies. Oh, and on the side, he created the most successful retail stores; Apple retail stores have a higher dollar volume per-square-foot than any other of any retail store.
Ironically someone asked me earlier today if I could do a training session on how people could emulate Steve Job’s innovation techniques. I responded that I studied this in detail and nobody else could do it the way he does.
I study and write about decision making, and frequently use Steve Jobs examples. He was a master decision maker. He made more bold-move business decisions than anyone ever. His decisions on the iPod, iTunes, iPhone, iPad, and the Apple stores were all criticized. He had a vision of what people would want that they didn’t even know they wanted. He was a detailed decision maker. He made almost all the detail design decisions at Apple. He made the all the strategic, pricing, manufacturing, and branding decisions. He knew when to listen to advice before making decisions, but he was even better at ignoring conventional advice, making decisions based on his own vision. Sure he made bad decisions, such as the Apple Lisa, Apple Newton, and Next Computer. But he learned from all of these and came back again with a better decision. He was tenacious. Steve Jobs was not only a great decision maker – he may have been the greatest decision making EVER.