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Simplicity Breeds Clarity

Simplicity Breeds Clarity

The Future of Everything.

The great poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Nothing is more simple than greatness; indeed to be simple is to be great.”

Indeed, I was reminded of those words when I thought about the passing of Steve Jobs, yet I was compelled to consider the following words of wisdom as well. “Any colour, so long as it’s black” was uttered by Henry Ford about his Model T. Another historical peer, John Lennon, once said, “The more I see, the less I know for sure.” It may seem strange enough that Jobs can be compared to Ford and Lennon, but what all three leaders knew and practiced was simplicity.

In engineering, business and leadership, there are two approaches. Provide your audience with a universe of possibilities and let them choose, or choose for them based on what research they desire. Jobs and his historical peers knew that designing great products that people would like, use and feel an emotional connection to will create a product culture. Not everyone in 1920 drove a Model T, nor did everyone love John Lennon. Even today, many people could care less about Apple. However, those who do care, care a lot. They believe that Apple cares about them and acts on their behalf. One reason for this is that Jobs embodied and created a culture that fostered loyalty and passion. He made it possible for Apple fans (not just customers) to understand Apple products completely because he designed products that are simple to use, embody an experience, look cool and provide identity to the user.

As a business leader, Steve Jobs also intuitively knew what would work because he was the consumer. Does it make sense to have the iPad be yet another computer with complete functionality? No. Other tabulate PCs failed. It made sense that the iPad, a product that could arguably compete with other Apple products, be simple and fun, useful and cool. Jobs and his designers made something that was technically simple (because consumers aren’t engineers) and something that the designers would use.

This is no trivial matter because what Jobs did better than everyone else was highlight that computers could be a natural extension of the human experience. He moved it from a strange, sterile box that could be used as a work station to something that extends the individual. With the use of functional yet simple products that people identified with, users could now extend their useful friendships from 7 to 70 by means of other simple applications (i.e.: Facebook, Twitter…). Databases and applications became fun to interact with, wherever you were. They became simple and clear.

Jeremy Hitchcock of Dynamic Network Services shared his perspective with me about Jobs’ impact over the last 35 years. After some discussion, Jeremy asked me what impact the use of language had on human productivity. A sizable impact indeed. What then is the influence of creating devices that most people want to use as an extension of language? Jobs may not have invented everything or had the entire market share. But there is no doubt that his work, ideas and passion had an impact on an industry that affects us all. Ford advanced the consumption of the automobile. Lennon advanced rock and roll and popular culture. Jobs advanced both the consumer culture and how extraordinary companies evolved and change.

I expect over the next several decades, Steve Jobs and the Apple experience will be studied, deconstructed, copied and emulated. Jobs’ legend is really just beginning because there are few better case studies of both a company and its groundbreaking leader. Jobs and Apple have been on the brink several times. Jobs had been fired by his own company only to return as the emperor of a movement. Apple produced bad products that eventually led to an understanding of what would be simpler and more useful.

I don’t want this article to be a mere tribute to someone I admired. The primary takeaway for me is the world has profoundly changed because a leader understood the importance of corporate and consumer culture, and followed a passion that put the mission first, simply and clearly, before all other concerns. Inside Apple, there has been an effort to document and capture the culture they have developed to have Steve Jobs’ way of thinking and leading infused forever in their culture. Apple knows what they just lost, and will attempt to extend Jobs brand not just in marketing, but in the DNA of the company. It’s that important.

Another take away is that the Steve Jobs experience, while extraordinary, was also ordinary. This guy never finished college, failed many times and was always in a common search for meaning, much like any of us. Perhaps the only difference is that he followed what he knew to be right for him.

At the 2005 StanfordUniversity commencement address, he said, “Don’t be trapped by dogma…don’t let the noise of other opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition”. Apple and the culture it represents is a result of intuition and heart, simply and clearly, and likely the reason for its tremendous impact.

Under the direction of Bedford, NH-based executive leadership strategy and coaching firm Sojourn Partners, The Future of Everything Project brings together thought leaders from diverse backgrounds to brainstorm, collaborate and proactively craft a vision of “what can be.” The project participant on this topic was Jeremy Hitchcock of Dynamic Network Services.

Dr. Russ Ouellette is the managing partner of Sojourn Partners, a Bedford-based executive leadership strategy and coaching firm. He can be reached at (603) 472-8103 or russ@sojournpartners.com. He can also be twittered @RussOuellette or Facebooked – Sojourn Partners.

Re-published courtesy of NH Business Review

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