Lessons from Steve Jobs

Some of you have probably read my review of Steve Jobs’ biography. I really like the book. It is a fantastic read. In the last post, I also promised to distill a few lessons. Well, here they are. A few interesting quotes. Quick and simple.

“Let’s make it simple. Really simple.”, Steve Jobs

People shy aways from using complex and complicated things. Think about Apple’s products – they are simple and easy to use. We do not need a manual to use the iPad, iPhone or iPod. We should all make an effort to simplify our business analytics objects whether they are reports, cubes or planning models. Complexity deters. Simplicity attracts. But achieving simplicity is not all that easy. Keep that in mind. We have to fight for it. We have to be creative to obtain it. But it’s worth the effort.

“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.”, Steve Jobs

We sometimes feel like juggling everything that is being thrown at us. We accept new requirements without really wondering whether they make sense. But we sometimes have to say “no”. Once again, let’s keep it simple and focus on the big picture. There is no point in trying to satisfy every single business user and process exception.

“Jobs also decided to eliminate the cursor arrow keys on the Macintosh keyboard. The only way to move the cursor was to use the mouse. It was a way of forcing old-fashioned users to adapt to point-and click navigation, even if they didn’t want to.”, Walter Isaacscon

Simplicity and focus should create objects that business users like to use. But we should not try to create too many exceptions and complexities to cater to those people who are skeptical. They will never change. Let’s focus on the essential stuff and people will follow ….. eventually.

Apple - Think Different

“I want it to be as beautiful as possible, even if it’s inside the box. A great carpenter isn’t going to use lousy wood for the back of a cabinet, even though nobody’s going to see it.”

Jobs pushed his teams to design beautiful products – even under the hood. We should strive to do the same. It pays off. Solid architecture and data models pay off a hundred times. It’s not just about the presentation layer. Poor design will eventually show.

“People who know what they are talking about don’t need PowerPoint.”, Steve Jobs

We spend way too much time creating PowerPoint presentations. Let’s drop that and invest the time in understanding our business and the associated problems and opportunities. Jobs is right – if you know your stuff, you can white board, you can discuss without the helping hand of a PowerPoint deck.

Last but not least, one of Steve Jobs’ favorite ideas came from Wayne Gretzky:

“Skate where the puck’s going, not where it’s been.” Wayne Gretzky

Let’s try to figure out how we can push the envelope. Let’s not just focus on the requirements of the users. Instead, let’s figure out how we can surprise them. When is the last time you have surprised them?

It all sounds so simple…right?



Steve Jobs about iCloud in 1997 – Back to the Future

iCLOUD IN 1997?

While reading the Steve Jobs biography last week, I watched some videos of Steve Job’s presentations. The great majority of the recordings are worth watching. There is a lot to learn from the master himself. He surely did know how to present. His appearances were always characterized by great clarity and passion.

When it comes to understanding his foresight and amazing vision, one recording certainly sticks out. And that one is not necessarily the best in terms of visuals, laughs and such. Watch this short 5 min recording from the famous 1997 Apple WWDC. Jobs is talking about some of his ideas. It is amazing to listen to this 14 years later. Much of this thinking is now incorporated in iCloud.


Review – Steve Jobs Biography

Yesterday morning, I finished reading to 600 page Steve Jobs Biography written by Walter Isaacson. To sum up the experience – it’s a great read. At least for people who are interested in business, technology and creativity.

Steve Jobs Biography


One the key strengths of the biography is the outstanding story telling by the author. This book is not only about Steve Jobs. No, there are fascinating anecdotes of the early Silicon Valley days that show how closely connected some of the pioneers were. Jobs and Wozniak, for example, reaped some of their first successes at Atari and they were heavily influenced by HP. The book therefore takes you on a fun journey through the history of modern technology. While reading the biography, I often found myself pulling up old photos of game consoles, PCs, Macs, iPods and other products. The relationship between Apple and Microsoft is also an important topic. And then there is Pixar of course: many people do not realize that Steve Jobs managed to bring Pixar to where it is today. Without Jobs there would probably not be movies like ‘Finding Nemo’ or ‘Toy Story’.


Steve Jobs was definitely a genius. The products he managed to bring to market are amazing for sure. And they have changed the world forever. But being a genius didn’t necessarily make him a nice person. The book is filled with tons of examples that show what a complex and difficult personality Jobs was. He must have been extremely rude and disrespectful. Reading some of the stories of him destroying and attacking co-workers, competitors, friends and family are outright disgusting. There were a few chapters where I just had to put the book down and walk away. Also, the stories about his extremely weird eating and personal hygiene habits are ….well…..interesting(he was a strict vegan and didn’t believe in taking showers). Overall, you get the picture of an extremely talented but yet extremely nasty person.


The biography is also motivating and educational. Jobs will be remembered as one of the most outstanding management characters. The book offers many insights into his philosophy. It certainly got me thinking about many different things and I would argue that this book could become a standard read in business schools. I will collect a few learnings and share them in a different post next week.


If you are interested in business and technology, get the Steve Jobs book. It is a true page-turner. There are chapters that are annoying (I got frustrated reading about Job’s weird behaviors). But it is truly inspiring and informative. A perfect read for the upcoming holiday season.

“My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products. Everything else was secondary. Sure, it was great to make a profit, because that was what allowed you to make great products. But the products, not the profits were the motivation.” Steve Jobs

P.S.: If you are indeed interested in Steve Jobs, I can highly recommend the writing of Carmine Gallo. He has published two books about Steve Jobs’ key strengths: creativity and presentation skills. Both books are quick reads and they offer insightful tips and tricks that everybody can use in business.



How to present numbers more effectively


My family and I just returned from a fantastic vacation on a cruise ship. On our last day we attended a Q&A session with the captain and a few of his officers. People were very interested in the details of the ship. The captain quoted a few numbers:

  • Weight: 85,000 tons
  • Installed Power: 48,000 HP
  • Length: 264 meters
  • Beam: 32 meters
Mein Schiff
Our 85,000 ton cruise ship

While the figures are certainly impressive I realized that they do no mean much. My boys asked the obvious question: “How much is that?” The numbers are just too difficult to understand. Indeed: What does 85,000 tons really mean? (Have you ever lifted something that heavy?) Plain digits rarely resonate with people – they do not communicate a story and they are often hard to understand. And this can be problematic in business when we present figures. We typically present them to tell a story and to instill action but the sheer nakedness of the digits hides the true meaning.  That’s what happened during the presentation of the cruise captain.


A better approach is to present the numbers and put them into context with something we are all familiar with. It helps people understand. This is especially helpful for larger numbers like the examples above. Let’s take a look:

  • 85,000 tons is about as heavy as the combined weight of 56,667 BMW 5 series sedans.
  • 48,000 horsepowers is the equivalent of 240 BMW 525d limousines pulling in unison
  • 264 meters is as long as 2.6 regular soccer fields
  • 32 meters is about half as wide as a soccer field

Here we go: 2.6 soccer fields long, with a huge stack of cars on top and a few hundred Beamers pulling the thing. Now that puts this into perspective and it is actually quite impressive. My kids understand that and they had a serious look of surprise on their faces.


One person who has perfected the technique of explaining and making numbers shine is Steve Jobs. He has delivered some classic explanations in recent history:

  •  “1000 songs in your pocket.” ….Jobs is explaining what a 5GB iPod is able to do
  • “Our market share is greater than BMW or Mercedes in the car industry.” ….Jobs was critized about the low market share number of 5% in the computer industry back in 2003


When you present numbers, try to put context around them. Compare them and relate them to something relevant. Pick something that your audience is familiar with. This technique is extremely effective and can really amplify your message. And it is not all that difficult. Best of all: you can use it in many different situations. Whether it is in a business meeting, your next presentation or to simply explain a few things to your kids.

“Remember, data is a representation of real life. It’s not just a bucket of numbers. There are stories in that bucket. There is meaning, truth and beauty.” Nathan Yau

P.S.: Speaking about context. Here is a fine example. We happened to spot the marvelous “A” yacht of Russian billionaire Andrei Melnitschenko. Look at the first photo and then scroll down to look at the second one. The first photo makes it difficult to assess it’s true size. It is hard to believe that this ship is a bit longer than a soccer field. The second photo provides the context of the fishing boat.

The "A" Yacht
How large is this gorgeous yacht? Hard to tell from the picture.
A Yacht
The small boat adds the context