Top 3 Product Management Lessons From Steve Jobs

Top 3 Product Management Lessons From Steve Jobs

Adam Costa recently gave us some innovation lessons from Steve Jobs. It’s a good list, and you should read it.

As I’m sitting here thinking about how much of an impact Steve Jobs had on me and so many people, I’m thinking of other lessons Steve Jobs provided.

Three general — but critical — product management lessons I wanted to share with you…

Computer Science Is A Liberal Art

“In my perspective … science and computer science is a liberal art, it’s something everyone should know how to use, at least, and harness in their life. It’s not something that should be relegated to 5 percent of the population over in the corner. It’s something that everybody should be exposed to and everyone should have mastery of to some extent, and that’s how we viewed computation and these computation devices.” – Steve Jobs, Fresh Air interview (1996)

Do products have souls?

My background is in online games, and I’m an English major. I can testify that you can absolutely tell when a game has been blessed with an animating spirit that is greater than the sum of its parts, more than just bits and bytes. This can also be applied more generally to any consumer product.

Apple under Steve Jobs exemplified this concept, consistently delivering products with a distinctive look and feel; a union of aesthetic and function that simply feels right in your hands.

Were they ever perfect? No; that’s what premium upgrade paths are for. But did they have a certain je ne c’est quoi? Absolument.

Focus And Simplicity

“That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” – Steve Jobs, BusinessWeek interview (1998)

My favorite utility app — Shazam — is my current poster child for this concept.

Shazam “listens” to a piece of music — say, something you like on the radio but don’t know the name of — analyzes it, identifies it, and provides a link to purchase it.

All you need to do: Hold your phone toward the source of the song and press a button.


There is a lot happening under the covers with Shazam but it’s insanely easy to use, and addresses a use case that applies to the target audience of “That song is cool; what is it called? Dammit, the DJ went straight to commercial without announcing the name.”

My Model For Business Is The Beatles

“My model for business is The Beatles. They were four guys who kept each other’s kind of negative tendencies in check. They balanced each other and the total was greater than the sum of the parts. That’s how I see business: great things in business are never done by one person; they’re done by a team of people.” – Steve Jobs, 60 Minutes interview (2003)

I was tempted to go with the famous Jobs line about focus groups being a waste of time but decided to end this top three with The Beatles because it’s an even less obvious lesson (and maybe an ironic lesson from someone reported to be a micro-manager).

No successful PM is an island. Our success or failure lies in the hands of others.

You’re a domain expert, sure. But nobody is an expert in everything.

Part of your job involves surrounding yourself with smart people, seeking out their advice and expertise, and incorporating their thoughts into your strategies and planning, and leveraging them for support and help in powering through obstacles to your product’s potential.

Jobs knew this. That’s why he trained Cook to be CEO, and hired Jonathan Ives for design, Phil Schiller for marketing, and Scott Forstall to oversee mobile software.

Who’s on your team — formally or informally — inside your office or outside your office — helping you make your core decisions?

One For The Record Books

Steve Jobs passed away this week, but his impact remains and he won’t be forgotten. The iconic CEO was smart, successful, and insightful. And he left many lessons for us to learn from…

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