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Employee Management, Retail & Inventory, Small Business Tools

Management Lessons From Steve Jobs and Apple


Apple has been in the headlines lately with the recent release of the Apple Watch and other new products. Even though it’s been a few years since Steve Jobs died, the company he founded is still very much operating in his image. Steve Jobs was one of the most influential and respected business leaders of the past 30 years, and no one else had his same singular sense of style and relentless attention to detail. No matter what industry you’re in, below are some important business management tips and productivity lessons from Steve Jobs and Apple that will help you become a better business owner.

Focus On What You Do Best

Steve Jobs was known for his steely determination. Tim Cook, Jobs’ successor as Apple CEO, stated in “The Most Important Lesson Tim Cook Learned from Steve Jobs: ‘Focus is Key,’” that Steve Jobs was “laser-focused”. One of the most important lessons that he learned from Steve Jobs was that “Focus is key…not just in running your company but in your personal life. You can only do certain things well.”

The meaning of focus goes beyond working hard on the things you’re excited about – you also have to learn how to say “no” to the projects or clients or products that you are not passionate about or that you feel are not a good fit for your business. Instead of trying to do everything under the sun, Apple only makes a select portfolio of products. Tim Cook was also quoted as saying in 2010 (“Apple COO Tim Cook: ‘We Have No Interest In Being In The TV Market,’”) that Apple is “the most focused company that I know of or have read of or have any knowledge of. We say no to good ideas every day. We say no to great ideas in order to keep the amount of things we focus on very small in number so that we can put enormous energy behind the ones we do choose.”

Steve Jobs wasn’t afraid to offer this advice to other business leaders. Nike CEO Mark Parker shared a story of how he once asked Steve Jobs for advice. In the article, “Steve Jobs: Get Rid of the Crappy Stuff,” Parker states that Jobs told him, “Nike makes some of the best products in the world. Products that you lust after. But you also make a lot of crap. Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff.”

So, how does that advice apply to your business? For starters, you need to be prepared to “edit” your business – and your personal life. Learn to say “no” to deals that aren’t a good fit. Avoid taking on another commitment if you don’t feel 100 percent energized about it. You’ll free up time in your personal life and create more room to focus on the things that are really going to be rewarding to your business and to you personally.

Minimize Distractions

Steve Jobs was known for being fastidious about managing his daily life and avoiding impositions on his time. He was well-known for wearing the same “uniform” of jeans, a black turtleneck, and running shoes every day for convenience – he saved time by never having to decide what to wear in the morning. (For more about this, see this article in Gawker, “Steve Jobs on Why He Wore Turtlenecks.”)

Steve Jobs’ time management obsession extended into some unusual places. According to the article, “The real reason why Steve Jobs drove without a license plate,” Steve Jobs leased a new car every six months so he didn’t have to put license plates on his car, presumably so he wouldn’t have to spend time waiting in line at the DMV.

Maybe Steve Jobs’ approach was more extreme or eccentric than most people would prefer, but these are good, vivid examples of how busy entrepreneurs can save time by removing all unnecessary, extraneous, value-less activity.

Even if you’re not ready to wear a “uniform” every day, what can you do differently in your daily life to save time and be more productive? Could you declutter your closets? Could you outsource your lawn mowing or other domestic chores? There are many ways to free up time to devote to your business – and make sure that your personal time is spent only on the things you love to do!

Make People Accountable

Apple is known as a hub of innovation and excellent product design, but an underrated aspect of Apple’s management culture is their project management abilities. Apple knows how to get things done – they launch lots of new products on time, on budget, in a way that makes a big splash with the media and with consumers. One way to achieve these results is to make people directly accountable for getting things done at every step of the process. Apple uses a term called “DRI” or “Directly Responsible Individual.” A DRI is assigned to each action item at every meeting in order to eliminate confusion and create clear roles so everyone knows who is supposed to do what. You can read more about Apple’s unique management culture in the Wired article, “Apple Employees Tell the Secrets Behind Steve Jobs’ ‘Magic.’”

Apple has become a stratospheric business success story and the most valuable company in the world. But every small business owner can find a few lessons and moments of inspiration from the best aspects of Apple’s management culture. Even if we don’t all wear black turtlenecks or make world-changing blockbuster products, we can all “think different” about being more creative in filling our days with productivity and purpose.

What’s your favorite Steve Jobs quote or Steve Jobs story? Tweet us at @KabbageInc and let us know!