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Steve Jobs: Leadership through Simplicity in Design

July 26, 2015
Young Steve Jobs So much of what we consumers purchase is based on shoddy workmanship, planned obsolescence and crappy follow-up customer service. Those in corporate leadership positions don’t seem to get it, typically getting cycled in and out of their top jobs for short periods. Screwing up doesn’t seem to matter, including unethical behavior, prompting generous severance packages. These corporate leaders are often not around to witness the full consequences of their inept leadership.

Whether physical products or services, their design usually leaves something to be desired, screaming out the ubiquitous question: “Why can’t you idiots in corporate land design things that work easily?”

Well, there’s one person who understood this early in life, and who lived the simplicity and elegance of design every day: Steve Jobs, who was my age (a few months older). Indeed, when someone your age who’s well known passes away, or dies tragically, you recognize your own imminent mortality, that we’re on Earth for but a nano-second in time. And if you’ve respected that person’s achievements over many years then you feel that the world has lost someone very special.

The first computer I used was an Apple II+ in 1982 when I joined the Government of Canada as an economist. A dual 5 ¼ inch floppy disk drive, three of my co-workers and I shared this state-of-the-art invention, much to the amazement of the rest of the regional office. People ogled the contraption, asking if they could ask the computer a question and if an answer would issue forthwith.

Alas, no.

But it was a very cool machine in its day.

Steve Jobs Steve Jobs, one of the world’s great contemporary innovators, left this planet for another life on October 5, 2011. Prior to his passing and since then a plethora of books have been written about him. While I can’t attest to which books are preferable, I can point to two that are great companions, having read them.

First, there’s Walter Isaacson’s 2011 masterpiece Steve Jobs (and 2013 paperback with epilogue about his death) for those who want more objective detail about his life and times. This authorized biography (600-plus pages and years in the making) sets the bar for informative books on Steve Jobs.

The second book is Steve Jobs Life by Design, which I really enjoyed, largely because of its conciseness–reflecting Jobs’ minimalist approach to design. Author George Beahm, a retired U.S. Army major, bases his book on Jobs’ last lecture at Stanford University’s 114th commencement on June 11, 2005. Check out Jobs’ full address here: How to Live before You Die.

Beahm does a brilliant job at capturing the essence of Steve Jobs, replete with leadership and life lessons, in less than 200 pages. It’s a gem of a book. He also links very nicely to another excellent book that I read several years ago: The Last Lecture: Achieving Your Childhood Dreams by Randy Pausch, delivered on September 18, 2007 at Carnegie Mellon University, and one of the most watched videos on the web. His succinct book is a must-read.

Elon Musk Now I can hear some out there objecting to what’s been written so far, saying “Steve Jobs was a prick; he treated Apple employees and friends horribly and was in ways a narcissist.”

You’ll get no arguments or excuses from this quarter. Yet, one has only to look at other revered corporate leaders to realize they’re also very prickly, with hugely demanding personalities. Witness Tesla Motors and SpaceX founder and genius, Elon Musk (pictured, and also co-founder of PayPal ). Musk, like Jobs, doesn’t suffer fools. But it’s why people like Elon Musk and Steve Jobs achieved such incredible things for the benefit of consumers and society.

So chill out, naysayers.

At his June 11, 2005, commencement address, Steve Jobs made one particularly valuable comment. Young people, then and 10 years later, continue to have a very difficult time in the job market, added to with onerous student loans. Reflect on his words:

Find the work that you love–and then relentlessly pursue it. That’s where you will find your fortune.

At the core of true leadership is the essence of simplicity, the ability to see through complexity, distilling patterns and trends, the inter-connections between ostensibly unrelated events. Top level leadership is not for everyone. Possessing the far-reaching vision to see what’s currently not possible, yet propelling everyone in the organization to move forward in unison at a breathtaking pace, is for the extraordinary individual. Steve Jobs certainly had that unique ability.


Your life is unique, so live it without regrets because you pass this way only once.

– Steve Jobs (Stanford University 2005 commencement address)


Book CoverClick here to download my complimentary e-book Discover Your Inner Leader: Reflections to Inspire and Motivate.


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Jim Grand Manan FBTake a moment to meet Jim.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 26, 2015 2:54 pm

    Inspiring post, and I will check out those books you mention.

    I’m thankful every day for being in the field of teaching. I get up energized every day. When I used teach in the classroom, I would wake up about 5 am, and even before opening my eyes, be hit with my very best ideas of the day, and could hardly wait to spring out of bed to take action on them! Yes, I would do this job for free. It’s really my passion.

    • July 26, 2015 3:00 pm

      Stay passionate, Mary. I recommend highly Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture, great little book, plus his video is inspiring.

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