Recommended Reading: Steve Jobs


As much as there is to admire about Steve Jobs for his accomplishments and contributions to today’s society, Jobs’ eccentricities also inevitably set him apart. His business success and drive to develop what Jobs called “insanely great” products, as much as his unique background and difficult personality, makes us yearn to know the details of who he was and how he lived.

Walter Isaacson’s best-selling biography Steve Jobs is a broad history of one of the iconic, customer-facing corporate brands of our time, as well as a satisfyingly up-close and honest portrait of the man behind it. Though Jobs and his family and friends were interviewed extensively for this project, Jobs exerted no control over its development. As a result, Isaacson has created a no-holds-barred glimpse of a man who did as he set out to do – in Jobs’ words, “put a dent in the universe.”

The adopted son of a carpenter, Jobs was raised with a strong work ethic that planted the seeds of artistry in form and function into a mind driven by perfectionism. Jobs could no more tolerate sloppy wiring on a computer’s motherboard – something that would never be seen by the end-user – than his father would have permitted the rear of a cabinet to be finished with a substandard wood backing. Even though the customer might never see it, “we would know,” Jobs reasoned.

Burnout rates ran high at Apple, and those who worked for and with Jobs were known to describe him as rough, difficult, rude, and unkind in his interpersonal style. Yet, he built fiercely loyal teams of individuals who were capable of responding to Jobs with brutal honesty and were driven to innovation by his demand for perfection in the end result of the products they developed. The rounded corners we see on desktop windows, for example, were an early innovation at Apple that Jobs insisted on because he observed that the edges on whiteboards, door frames, office furniture, etc. were all rounded off for aesthetics and use. One of Apple’s engineers developed a shortcut for the rounded rectangle simply by not realizing it shouldn’t have been possible. The coding should have been too complex.

Today it could be argued that the Apple brand, from its packaging to its appearance to its user interface, represents the culmination of Jobs’ pursuit of the optimal customer experience – a factor that was continually top of mind for Jobs.

Organizations looking to model Apple’s success have much to draw from; in winning several recent customer experience awards, Apple was noted to have effectively connected with customers in a “deeply emotional, irrational way.” It would be worth considering what lessons can be learned from this.

  1. Customer first. Paying close attention to every detail of what the customer will experience is a hallmark of successful brands. The goal is to ensure a consistently positive experience at each interaction point, and to listen and respond to customer feedback on the experience.
  1. Sense of community. For many, owning a certain product or brand means belonging to a group of like-minded individuals. A strong brand identity is not something that can be drawn out in a marketing plan; it is a living, breathing entity that members of your target market help cultivate and shape by interacting with it on a daily basis.
  1. Creativity. At our core, we as human beings are creative. Brands that tap into this creativity by enabling us to feel inspired and empowered are those to which customers form an emotional connection and continually return.

Examining the successes of one CEO will not help us re-create the same successes. Instead, hopefully it will open up new ways of looking at the universe in order to make new “dents” in it.

Chris O'Brien