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The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs

By June 7, 2010Article

“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It’s not about the money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.”
So said legendary Apple CEO Steve Jobs. His company slogan “Think Different” is more than a marketing tool. It’s a way of life—a powerful, positive, game-changing approach to innovation that anyone can apply to any field of endeavor.
The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs: Insanely Different Principles for Breakthrough Success,” is a new book which reviews Seven Principles of Innovation inspired by Jobs’ leadership. The following excerpt focuses on the importance of inspiring employee evangelists in order to foster an environment that encourages innovation and allows it to flourish.
How Jobs Inspired One Early “Evangelist”
Apple successfully launched the personal computer revolution with the introduction of Apple II in June 1977. The Apple II, designed by Steve Wozniak, had a screen, a built-in keyboard, color graphics, sound, and a floppy disk drive. It also made “microcomputers” accessible and affordable and became one of the most successful personal computers of its time. It established Apple as a legitimate brand and paved the way for Apple’s blockbuster IPO in 1980 and for the introduction of Macintosh in 1984.
At the time of the Apple II’s launch, however, Apple was still small, occupying office space behind The Good Earth restaurant in Cupertino. As its name suggested, The Good Earth was an early entry in the healthful food category, well known in “the Valley” for its granola pancakes, vegetarian dishes, and whole-grain breads, which it served long before these items would become staples in casual restaurant chains around the country. The Good Earth was a favorite hangout for those early Apple employees, including cofounder Steve Jobs. Now, the restaurant is long gone, and Apple has since moved to its global headquarters on One Infinite Loop, one mile away from its original space, but an extraordinary lunch meeting still burns brightly in the mind of Rob Campbell, CEO of Voalté, a company that builds wireless applications for the health care industry.
In 1977, Campbell—who would later develop PowerPoint—was a twenty-two-year-old programmer with a small software company in Denver. Campbell had created the first general accounting software program for the Apple II. He was excited about the emerging class of personal computers and began searching for a position at one of the companies at the forefront of the revolution. Steve Jobs had taken an interest in the young whiz kid and invited Campbell to meet with him in California.
Today anyone who got called by Steve Jobs personally would be on the next plane to the San Jose airport. In 1977, though, Jobs wasn’t the legend that he is today, and Campbell did not know much about him, so he did his due diligence and, before meeting with Jobs, visited Apple competitors Tandy and Commodore. He first paid a visit to Tandy in Fort Worth, Texas.
“What is your vision for the personal computer?” Campbell asked Tandy executives.
“We think it could be the next big thing on everyone’s wish list for the holiday season. It’s the next CB radio!” they responded.
Tandy owned Radio Shack, which it purchased in 1963. In the next twenty years, the number of Radio Shack outlets would grow to more than seven thousand around the world. The seventies were a big growth period for Radio Shack, largely because of the popularity of the CB (citizens band) radio in 1977. Tandy called CB the “survival tool for the energy crunch.” Thanks to the success of the CB, Tandy had just come out of its strongest holiday season and was looking forward to the next year’s hit. In the queue was the TRS-80 microcomputer. The first Radio Shack ads for the computer called it “affordable” at $600 ($2,000 in today’s dollars) and targeted the computer for the school, home, office, and hobbyist markets.
CB radios were in full craze that year. Long-haul truckers had popularized the radios, which showed up frequently in popular culture, including movies such as Smokey and the Bandit and The Gumball Rally and songs such as C. W. McCall’s “Convoy.” The CB radio was one of the hottest fads of the seventies, and Tandy thought it had another fad on its hands with the new personal computer. Fads come and go, and Campbell wasn’t inspired by the idea of participating in one.
Campbell followed his uninspiring meeting at Tandy with a visit to Commodore. Commodore made cash registers and had recently introduced its entry into the personal computer market in June 1977. The computer was called PET, short for Personal Electronic Transactor (not exactly an exciting name, but Commodore felt the acronym would make the technology warm and fuzzy). The PET was Commodore’s first full-featured computer. At the time, Commodore’s stock was trading at less than a dollar a share.
“What is your vision for the personal computer?” Campbell asked Commodore executives.
“We think it could help our stock rise above two dollars a share!” they said excitedly.
Stocks rise and fall, and Campbell wasn’t inspired by the idea of helping a company raise its stock price. “Next I met with Steve and Mike Markkula,” Campbell told me.
Markkula was twelve years older than Jobs and had built up some wealth after cashing in stock options from his previous employer, Intel. Markkula invested $250,000 in Apple, became part owner and employee number three, and acted as management mentor to the younger Jobs. Markkula also played a significant role in the technology advances of the Apple II. According to Steve Wozniak, it was Markkula who persuaded him to design a floppy disk drive for the computer, a feature that differentiated the Apple II from its competitors. Campbell sat down for lunch with Markkula and Jobs, a “long-haired kid in blue jeans.”
“What is your vision for the personal computer?” Campbell asked the Apple executives.
Campbell says what happened next still gives him goose bumps, more than thirty years later.
“Steve Jobs was a magical storyteller. For the next hour, he talked about how personal computers were going to change the world. He painted a picture of how it would change everything about the way we worked, educated our children, and entertained ourselves. You couldn’t help but to buy in.”
Campbell did buy in and went to work for Apple.
“What is the one thing that set Steve Jobs apart from other leaders?” I asked Campbell.
“Steve has vision,” he said. “He sees over the horizon.”
The Power of Seeing “Over the Horizon”
Steve Jobs did not invent the personal computer, nor did he invent the MP3 player, yet he innovated around those devices with the introduction of the Mac and the iPod. Steve Jobs did not invent smartphones, nor did he invent the tablet computer, yet he innovated around those devices with the introduction of the iPhone and the iPad. Steve Jobs did not invent computer animation, nor was he the first to sell computers directly to consumers, yet he innovated around those ideas with the introduction of Pixar and Apple Stores.
Although few large companies are as closely associated with their founder as Apple is, Jobs is not a one-man show. He knows what he doesn’t know. Jobs “ sees over the horizon” and hires people—the best in the business—who are inspired to make the dream a reality. Every innovation at Apple starts with a big, bold vision and a heavy dose of inspiration.
Innovation does not easily fit in a single package created, designed, and assembled by one individual. Rarely are new ideas commercialized without an inspired team of creative and passionate evangelists who turn those ideas into reality. Everyone knows Steve Jobs, but early in Apple’s history, partners such as Steve Wozniak, Jeff Raskin, Mike Markkula, and Daniel Kottke shared Jobs’s vision of putting computers into the hands of everyday people. Without them, there would be no Macintosh and no Apple.
Today Jobs is surrounded by creative, bright individuals such as the brilliant designer Jonathan Ive, president Tim Cook, marketing vice president Phil Schiller, and many others. Remember, inventions or ideas become innovations when they are turned into useful products or services that improve people’s lives. No single idea that Jobs ever had would have stood a chance of becoming a successful innovation had he not been able to persuade others to join him on his journey. And nobody would have joined Jobs without having been inspired by his vision.
“Steve has a power of vision that is almost frightening,” in the words of Trip Hawkins, former Apple Vice President of Strategy and Marketing. “When Steve believes in something, the power of that vision can literally sweep aside any objections or problems. They just cease to exist.” If passion is the fuel that gives innovators the energy to pursue their dreams, vision provides the direction that inspires evangelists to join the innovator on the journey.
Read more from “The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs: Insanely Different Principles for Breakthrough Success.”
”The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs” author Carmine Gallo is a communications coach for the world’s most admired brands. Learn more about him at

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