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What Made Steve Jobs Successful
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What Made Steve Jobs Successful

When I think about what made Steve Jobs successful, I can't help but be reminded about what made all his triumphs so special in the first place. Anyone who has followed the Apple story for any length of time knows about the humble beginnings of two guys in a garage. What people typically do not remember are some of the spectacular failures along the way as well. It isn't the stunning successes that make the story so compelling, it is the overwhelming triumphs after several epic flops. Perhaps moreso than any executive we've ever known, Steve Jobs' path to success was a true fail-my-way to success American story.

Humble Beginnings in a Garage with a Dream

Nearly everyone I knew and grew up with either owned or used an Apple II series computer. They became ubiquitous in school systems around the country with their fun educational games for learning. I even recall playing a simplified graphics game call Decathalon by a tiny (at the time) company by the name of Microsoft. What many people didn't know was the first couple of iterations of those machines sold in the realm of a few hundred each. It wasn't until the development of the floppy drive and increased on system memory that Apple became a household name. One would have thought that would have been enough to make the two Steves (Wozniak was the other) set for life and unquestioned in the contribution to the world of technology - but that wasn't enough for Jobs. He was always interested in developing the next thing consumers wanted. So he carried on.

Lisa: You're Fired!

One of the problems with being both an entrepreneur and creative director within a public company is that at times the roles operate with competing interests. Such was the case early on for Apple's Jobs as he was forced to fight for resources within the company he helped found. In the early 1980s Apple pushed hard resources into a computer called Lisa while Jobs was left to work on the Macintosh. Corporate leadership pushed Lisa out the door first and with its price tag it might as well have been pushed out the window. Nevertheless Jobs carried on with the Macintosh project, launched in 1984 with an ad drawing on the theme of the George Orwell novel (with IBM playing the role of Big Brother). Needless to say history was made and Apple and Jobs lived happily ever after, right?

NeXT! or Not

Given the difficulties he experienced during the Lisa / Macintosh development period it was natural for Steve to desire a change in leadership. The Board of Directors (one of the joys of being a public company) hired John Sculley to control the visionary and entrepreneur. The relationship didn't work and in 1985 to his surprise Steve Jobs was ousted from the company he helped start. That might have been the end of some entrepreneurs but again, Jobs picked himself off the ground and launched NeXT - another computer company.

I double too many people even remember (or ever saw) a NeXT computer. Somewhere on the order of about 50,000 units were made and sold, making it a humiliating flop. On the other hand what made Steve Jobs successful was not all the tremendous sales and products, but instead it was his insistence on rising from defeat.

Mac OS X and The Phoenix Rising from the Ashes

Like any great American story of success, it is the return from complete humiliation which is what made Steve Jobs successful. While his critics at the time were intently focused on the failure of the NeXT computer, Jobs instead picked up the pieces of the inner workings of the machine and brought them with him back to Apple in 1996 (having been purchased by Apple). A year later Jobs was CEO and shortly after the millenium the foundation of the NeXT operating system became the foundation of Mac OS X which has run generations of Macs ever since.

In retrospect perhaps what made Steve Jobs successful is not all the gadgets and computers and stunning ad campaigns. Perhaps what made the difference was his similarity to other pioneers such as Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. What made Steve Jobs successful was his determination to not let failure get in his way to achieving success. Like Edison and Tesla, each trial success or failure resulted in a greater understanding of the challenges of innovation. Something that maybe makes him greater than these two visionaries was his ability (eventually) to master the corporate business model as well - making Apple Inc. the largest consumer company in the world before leaving his duties in early 2011.

What We Can All Learn from the Example of Steve Jobs

I think my most important takeaway as an online marketer from what made Steve Jobs successful is that the steps to internet marketing success are paved with repeated efforts and numerous failures. The only shame in failure would be to not examine the reasons for failure, not learn from the effort, and not use that increased wisdom as a springboard for better future attempts.

At the time Apple CEO Steve Jobs left / stepped aside at Apple Inc. this year many wondered how far off the end would be. Sadly for all it was only a matter of weeks. We should all endeavor to create so much value and enjoyment for so many.

Street Talk

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