What I Learned About Product Management From Steve Jobs


I just finished reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs and am utterly blown away.

Steve Jobs founded Apple, made it great, got kicked out, came back and made it the best. He helped turn Pixar into the animation powerhouse it is today. He revolutionized the music industry and he pretty much launched the smart phone and tablet industries.

I had no idea how much direct influence Steve Jobs had in driving the tech industry forward to where we are today. He is without a doubt one of the most influential leaders of the modern age.

But Steve Jobs wasn’t just a leader, he was also a product guy. He possessed an amazing sense of intuition, vision and drive for understanding customers, creating great products and bringing them to the masses.

Here are some of the lessons I learned about product management by reading about one of the greatest journeys of one of the greatest product managers of all time.

“Our goal isn’t just to make money, but to make great products”

Throughout the book Steve Jobs often declared that “Apple is a product company”. He understood that if you focus on creating great products, success will follow.

No matter what industry you’re in, if you’re selling something to a customer, then you need a good product. You might have the most amazing marketing campaigns, a beautiful website and the most loyal fans, but in the end it all boils down to the quality of your product. If your product sucks, people won’t buy it and you won’t last very long.

If you build something just to make money, this will be reflected in the quality of the product. But if you build something that you actually believe in, then you’ll give it your all to make the best product that you can, and everything else will fall into place.

“Pretend to be completely in control and people assume you are”

Whenever Steve Jobs was faced with a situation that was unfavorable, he rejected that reality and substituted his own (Mythbusters ftw). Acquaintances of Steve called this his “reality distortion field”.

But he didn’t just use this mind-trick to convince himself but also to persuade others that his point of view was reality.

Sometimes this could be damaging, but it could also be very empowering. When discussing the reality distortion field and how it could push you to achieve great things, Debi Coleman, one of the original Mac team members, said “We did the impossible, because we didn’t realise that it was impossible”.

Even though the odds were stacked against them, Steve convinced them that the Mac was going to happen, come what may, and by ignoring all the naysayers and negativity surrounding the project they managed to focus and finish the job.

Sometimes when it feels like the whole world is crumbling around you, you just need to pretend it isn’t. Take control and do what you have to do to prove that it can be done.

“We are at the intersection of technology and the humanities”

Perhaps Steve Jobs’ greatest skill was his talent for understanding how to make products that were incredibly innovative, but still intuitive enough for anyone to pick up almost immediately. He managed to do this because he understood people.

As a product manager it’s vital that you listen to what your customers have to say. But if you are only making products based on customer feedback, then you are being reactive not proactive. To be truly innovative and intuitive, you need to understand who your customers are so that you can figure out what they want before they do.

“His management mantra was focus”

In 1998, shortly after returning to Apple and becoming CEO, the first thing Steve Jobs did was trim Apple’s product portfolio. By focusing on a few key products he managed to save Apple from bankruptcy and turn it into the success it is today. Essentially, he applied the Pareto Principle, which suggests that 80% of results are achieved from 20% of the inputs.

It’s better to focus on doing a few products really well, instead of making many products that are merely mediocre.

“Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.”

The above quote comes from Steve Jobs’ famous Stanford Commencement Address in 2005. I think it nicely sums up Steve’s approach to making “a dent in the universe”. Stay Hungry in that you should always keep pushing yourself to be better. Stay Foolish in that you should do or be willing to keep trying things that people say cannot be done.

The above are just a few of the gems of wisdom contained within Steve Jobs’ biography. I definitely recommend the book to any aspiring product manager, or any tech person for that matter, so that you can learn what it takes to be the best from the best there ever was.





Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *