Four lessons from Steve Jobs – on focus, culture, benefits, and working in tech

AppleSteve Jobs is an icon of digital change.

He cofounded Apple in his parents’ garage in 1976, was ousted in 1985, returned to rescue it from near bankruptcy in 1997, and by the time he died in October 2011, had built it into the world’s most valuable company.

Under his leadership, Apple revolutionised seven industries: personal computing, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, retail stores, and digital publishing. He belongs in the list of America’s great innovators, along with Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Walt Disney. 

Steve Jobs understood from the start that building a culture around tech is hard – you need a business full of highly talented people and you need to inspire them to work together to create huge change.

His idea was simple.

That passionate employees will be more engaged and innovative both as individuals and collectively, accelerating digital change.

In turn, this leads to greater customer engagement and – ultimately - a faster growing, more profitable and sustainable business.


Four lessons from Steve Jobs

Here are four ways that Steve Jobs and Apple’s management team focused on the personal in the pursuit of digital transformation and profitable business growth.


  1. Inspiring people on a personal level

Steve Jobs was a hugely inspiring person, even to team members who never met him. There are stories of Apple stores giving a standing ovation when news broke that he had passed away.

So what made him so special? 

Apart from his technical prowess and commercial success, one thing that really resonated with people was that he wasn’t afraid to take risks and, if necessary, fail in his efforts.

In his own words: "the greatest artists like Dylan, Picasso and Newton risked failure. And if we want to be great, we've got to risk it, too."


  1. Knowing what you’re focusing on, all of the time

For Steve Jobs, “focus” was a singular, long-term, and constant obsession.

According to Jony Ive, Apple’s former head of design, Jobs knew what he was focused on, and that’s all that mattered.

Steve was the most focused person I’ve ever met in my life. And the thing with focus is … it is an every single minute, ‘Why are we talking about this? This is what we’re working on.’ You can achieve so much when you truly focus.

It’s easy to say no to bad ideas.

It’s not so easy to say no to good ideas that just don’t yet align with your target. To stay focused, that is exactly what needs to happen. This was precisely how Jobs used to gauge whether his team was truly focusing: whether or not they were sacrificing good ideas in the pursuit of better ones. When he returned in 1997, he culled the product developments in progress to just 4 products – consumer and pro, desktop and mobile.

It’s not the only thing he did to turn around the company’s fortunes.

But arguably it was the most important.

One of the things Steve would say was ‘How many things have you said no to?’

Focus means is saying ‘no’ to something that with every bone in your body you think is a phenomenal idea, because you’re focusing on something else.

That’s how you can create something amazing.

Sacrifice, in the pursuit of focus.


  1. Going above and beyond the salary

Apple employees famously have great perks.

Steve Jobs offered massive discounts on Apple products (friends and family included), for example.

Apple Campus 2 (AKA the spaceship office) replaced their Cupertino HQ in 2017, and was finally complete in May 2018. The spaceship is a great example of how Apple incorporate their products into their workplaces, with iPad-controlled doors, lights and coffee makers, and much more. In addition to the brand-focused touches, there’s a fitness centre, a basketball court, and a rec room with table tennis and foosball.

Even an ice cream bar.


Jobs believed that random encounters and conversations would spark creativity and original thought. He designed Apple’s offices with this very concept in mind, with a big focus on communal open spaces to spark these random encounters.

London-based employees are about to benefit from an office upgrade too – to Battersea Power Station.

The 500,000 square-foot building will be one of the biggest office locations in the city, set to open in 2021.


  1. Understanding the importance of employee recognition

Jobs understood that employees had to feel valued in order to be motivated and engaged in their work.

This is summed up in one interview where he talked about the importance of empowering employees to make their own decisions.

He believed that this was the only way to attract and retain the best talent.

Jobs was passionate about the need for every team member to feel they are achieving something “real” – not just working on a never-ending process, but with focused goals and rewards for achieving them.

He eschewed vanity, and never sugar-coated the truth.

When his head of design, Jony Ives, was working heart and soul on a huge project, but Jobs thought they were heading in the wrong direction, he told the team so. Jony asked Jobs why he had been so critical, questioning the harshness of Jobs’ response, and received this reply.

‘Jony, you just want people to like you. I’m surprised at you because I thought you really held the work up as the most important, not how you believed you were perceived by other people.’

To find out more about what developers really want, and how to inspire technical teams, read our recent article – What Devs Want


A journey towards digital transformation is beset with highs and lows, setbacks and sometimes pivots not just in technological implementation, but in the strategy itself. Employee engagement is vital to drive the type of digital change that is needed to compete with more agile competitors, or in the face of technological or regulatory change.

Slate accelerates digital change by providing highly engaged consultants, leaders, developers and technical expertise to upskill your internal teams and accelerate digital change, bringing your own people along, and adapting seamlessly to your culture and vision.

 If you’re a big corporate looking to hire the best, or a developer looking for a new challenge, get in touch.


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