An evangelist of innovation
By AJ Philip
The Steve Jobs Way: iLeadership for a New Generation, Jay Elliot with William L Simon, Jaico Publishing House, Pp 259, Rs 250.00
AS a wag said, humanity can be divided into those who love Apple products and those who hate them. Every year when Steve Jobs held a conference to announce a new product or an upgrade of an existing product, millions of people the world over watched him, even if many of them might never use an Apple product.
No other company can claim that hundreds of people would queue up before its stores to be among the first to pick up a new product the day it is launched. The brand loyalty Apple commands is the envy of every company on this planet. By international standards, it is not as big as, say, Samsung, the world’s biggest technology firm, measured by sales. But then, the Korean giant is a conglomerate of 83 companies!
In contrast, minimalism has been the governing principle at Apple, formulated and followed by Steve Jobs, till he quit from its day-to-day affairs because of ill-health. Yet, early this year, Apple overtook Exxon Mobil as the most valuable company in the US, though only for a few days. It signalled a high-water mark in the history of Apple, now valued at $100 billion.
Jay Elliot, who was Vice-President at Apple Computer, has not attempted a biography of either his hero or the company Jobs founded in, so to say, a car garage, in this book which looks at Jobs’ leadership style, admiringly, rather than critically. In the end, the reader gets a fair idea of why Apple fans are fiercely loyal to the “most outstanding company in the history of business”.
For Jobs, the choice was clear: he would have “his way or the highway”. In fact, it was the highway he chose first. A college drop-out, he came to India in search of spiritual salvation and dreamed of becoming a Buddhist monk. Had his energy not been channelised properly, he knew he would probably have ended up in jail. But once he realised his calling, there was no looking back and, in the process, he founded a new religion that Elliot calls “user friendly”.
The doctrines of the new religion are simple and straight-forward. To succeed, the user must find the product simple and easy to use. Every computer user knows how useful the humble mouse is to cut, paste, drag, highlight, italicise and delete. Jobs’ genius lay in the fact that he foresaw the need and came up with a solution.
The secret of Jobs’ success was that he saw himself, more as a consumer than as a creator. When he thought of a cell phone, he wanted a device that could also serve as a mini-computer on which the user could access the Internet, all without too many buttons. From that need arose the iconic iPhone. Left to himself, it would have had only one button, i.e., to switch it on and to switch it off.
For those who know the history of computers, tablets were unsuccessfully launched by many companies, only to abandon them for want of consumer support. But when Jobs introduced iPad, it instantly became the most desirable device for the upwardly mobile. From a Malaysian MP, who used it to watch pornographic stuff while attending Parliament, to a multi-billionaire, who was refused permission to use it in Tihar jail, everyone wants it for the convenience and ease it affords.
Years after iPad was launched, it remains the numero uno, though the market is flooded with its clones. Apple products are a fusion of simplicity and advanced technology reflecting its founder, about whom the author says: “The more he advanced, the simpler his products became”.
Apple would not have become what it is today but for Jobs’ uncompromising nature when it came to quality. He knew what exactly he wanted and would get it even if a launch date had to be postponed. He took pride in every Apple product and, more important, he was able to instil the same feeling into everyone who worked for him. The iPod, from its Nano version to the latest iPod Touch with HD recording capabilities, was the result of his abiding love for music.
Small wonder that when Jobs quit from Apple’s leadership, the news was received with a lot of sadness by Apple aficionados the world over. Can Jobs’ management style be followed? The author’s answer is a definitive “yes”, buttressed by his claim that he had himself tried it out successfully. He is also certain that while Jobs is not replaceable as a “charismatic, visionary leader of a consumer-product-centric company”, a triumvirate at Apple can carry forward his legacy.
Anybody who has ever fallen for an Apple product, like this reviewer who owns several of them, will find Jay Elliot’s book offering a joyful peek into the wondrous world of Steve Jobs, who elevated his products and their launch into an art form, few can imitate.
(A-2 Jash Chambers, 7-A Sir Phirozshah Mehta Road, Fort Mumbai–400 00)