When Steve Jobs’ biography by Walter Isaacson came out shortly after his death, plenty of folks snapped it up very quickly. I was a bit intimidated by its size, but I finally cracked it open last summer.
What I found was surprisingly not a fawning portrait of Apple’s visionary leader but instead a history of the tech industry wrapped in an honest, not-always-flattering biography.
It’s a great read for anyone interested in business, as it looks at what Apple — and Jobs — did differently than their competitors. Here are two major philosophical debates presented in the book.
Diversification vs. Single-Minded Focus
Apple operates at its best when it focuses on making a single product awesome. That’s how we got the iPhone, the iPod and the iPad — not to mention the last several renditions of desktops and laptops. When Jobs set his mind to something, whether it was developing the perfect glass for his stores or finding the brightest shade of white, he went at it with all his energy until it was exactly what he wanted.
The pros to this are clear, but the con is that if you’re focusing on only one thing, you’re not focusing on others. It’s what’s called the opportunity cost in economics, and it’s something Apple pays for from time to time. But it’s also how they reap awards — like having enough cash on hand to buy Amazon or build a space station.
What It Means For Your Business: Finding the right balance between these two can make or break your business. You want to focus on doing what you do best, but you also don’t want to miss out on related opportunities that fit your target market and at which you could excel. Setting up periodic, regular reviews to analyze and adjust as necessary is your best bet for striking that balance.
Licensing vs. Exclusivity
The biggest fork in the road between Apple and Microsoft came when Apple decided they would not license their technology to other PC builders. This allowed them to keep control of the quality of their brand — but it lost them a huge market share to Microsoft, as evidenced by the fact that you’ll still find PCs in most office buildings today. Apple began reclaiming some of the market in the mid-2000s, but they’ve obviously got a long way to go.
That being said, you won’t find a more loyal customer base than Mac users, and practically everyone owns at least one Apple product these days, whether it’s a low-end iPod Shuffle or a top-of-the-line iMac. PC users in general use PCs because that’s what they’ve been presented. It’ll be interesting to see in the next decade where things end up, especially as tablets cannibalize traditional computers.
What It Means For Your Business: For most businesses, this relates to a case of quality vs. availability, and once again it’s all about balance. Finding that sweet spot where you can provide the best product or service to the largest market without sacrificing the quality is what you’re aiming for. That might mean taking on fewer clients or producing fewer units until you can sustain your growth by expanding your resources. Again, setting up regular reviews is a great way to keep on top of your business’s needs and capabilities as it grows.
What to Take from Steve Jobs (the Biography)
I was truly fascinated by this book — both because of the journey Jobs took from college drop-out to worshipped tech leader and because of what we can learn about business from how he and others ran theirs.
It’s not the rambling fanboy letter I’d feared it would be (which I say despite being an obvious Apple fan). It’s an honest account of one man’s huge effect on both the tech industry and our day-to-day lives — and that’s no exaggeration. If you read it, you’ll see what I mean — and if you have read it, I’d love to hear what you thought in the comments!