If you can say ‘yes' to rewinding to the past, here is Inside Steve's Brain: Business lessons from Steve Jobs, the man who saved Apple by Leander Kahney, which distils the principles that guided Jobs in launching killer products, attracting fanatically loyal customers, and managing some of the world's most powerful brands. And the first lesson is on saying ‘No' to stay focussed. When Jobs re-entered Apple in 1997, about twenty years after he had co-founded it, the company was selling about forty different products – everything from inkjet printers to the Newton handheld – the author traces. “Few of them were market leaders. The lineup of computers was particularly baffling. There were several major lines – Quadras, Power Macs, Performas, and PowerBooks – each with a dozen different models. But there was little to distinguish between the models except their confusing product names…”
Within days of returning to Apple as the iCEO (the interim CEO), Jobs got to work, the book chronicles. “Jobs set up shop in a big conference room and called in the product teams one by one. As soon as everyone had convened, it went straight to work. ‘No introductions, absolutely not'… Someone started taking notes. Steve said, ‘You don't need to take notes. If it's important, you'll remember it.'”
One of the important changes that Jobs brought about was to resolve a long-running and damaging patent lawsuit with Microsoft. In return for dropping charges that Microsoft ripped off the Mac in Windows, Jobs persuaded Gates to keep developing the all-important Office suite for the Mac, narrates Kahney. “Without Office, the Mac was doomed. Jobs also got Gates to publicly support the company with a $150 million investment. The investment was largely symbolic, but Wall Street loved it: Apple stock shot up 30 per cent.”
In the author's view, the most important thing Jobs did was to radically simplify Apple's product pipeline. “In his modest office near the company's boardroom, Jobs drew a very simple two-by-two grid on the whiteboard. Across the top he wrote ‘Consumer' and ‘Professional,' and down the side, ‘Portable' and ‘Desktop.'” This was the radical new product strategy – killing everything to focus on just four machines – and some thought it was crazy, even suicidal, recounts Kahney. “Jobs knew that Apple was only a few short months from bankruptcy, and the only way to save the company was to focus keenly on what it did best: build easy-to-use computers for consumers and creative professionals.”
Did Jobs believe in a system of innovation, or consciously think about innovation? No, we consciously think about making great products, Jobs had told a journalist. For, to him, trying to systemise innovation is “like somebody who's not cool trying to be cool. It's painful to watch… It's like watching Michael Dell try to dance. Painful.”
The Genius Bar, a place where customers could get answers face to face, finds special mention in the book. Ron Johnson, the company's retail head, asked a focus group what their best experience with customer service was, anywhere. “Most mentioned the concierge desk at hotels, which is there to help, not sell. Johnson realised it might be a good idea to install a concierge desk for computers. He thought it could be like a friendly neighbourhood bar, where the bartender dispensed free advice instead of booze…”
Suggested study for business leaders in any domain.