10 Lessons From the Legacy of Apple’s Steve Jobs

Embrace multidisciplinary perspectives and focus on design are a few

6 min read
An iPad with Steve Jobs and the words, “Steve Jobs, 1955-2011”
Anatolii Babii/Alamy

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the passing of Steve Jobs, a tireless tech visionary, an extraordinary innovator, and the cofounder of Apple. When he died on 5 October 2011 at age 56, he left a lasting legacy.

Jobs's innovations made a profound impact. He redefined computing, enhancing the user experience, and created products and services loved by millions around the world. He reshaped the music industry with the iPod, the mobile phone industry with the iPhone, and the movie industry with Pixar Animation Studios. He also transformed the publishing industry with iBooks and media subscription services.

Jobs also redefined what a high-tech corporate campus should look like, according to a 2011 IEEE Spectrum article. One of the final products he pitched was Apple Park, the company's corporate campus in Cupertino, Calif. Jobs designed it to be a curved structure without a straight piece of glass. Construction on the four-story building, nicknamed the spaceship, was completed in 2017. It now can house 12,000 employees.

Jobs had amazing vision. He foresaw what the future of technology could—and should—be. And, crucially, he brought that vision to fruition.

In his tribute to Jobs, former U.S. President Barack Obama described him as "brave enough to think differently, bold enough to believe he could change the world, and talented enough to do it. He made the information revolution not only accessible but intuitive and fun."

Jobs was not an engineer, an IT professional, or even a college graduate. Still, he was able to make lasting contributions to the technology and business worlds.

Engineers, IT professionals, and business executives can learn valuable lessons by studying his career. Here are 10 that I've identified—strategies that can help a wide range of professionals excel.

Think differently and work persistently. Jobs encouraged others to think differently and creatively in conceiving new products and solving problems. He said, "When you first start off trying to solve a problem, the first solutions you come up with are very complex, and most people stop there. But if you keep going and live with the problem and peel more layers of the onion off, you can oftentimes arrive at some very elegant and simple solutions. Most people just don't put in the time or energy to get there."

Anticipate and create the need. Jobs had an uncanny ability to foresee and define trends in computers and consumer electronics. "A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them," he said. "We shouldn't overly rely on focus groups. Sometimes the most innovative of products contradict what the end users envision." He showed people what they need, not just what they asked for.

Jobs could anticipate what we wanted before we even knew we wanted it, creating a market for a product where none had previously existed. And he led the creation and marketing of irresistible products including the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, which spurred several companies to follow suit with similar products and marketing strategies.

A man in a black shirt and jeans standing in front of a screen with a large hand holding a phone.Steve Jobs introducing the new iphone at Macworld in 2007 in San FranciscoMedia News Group/Getty Images

Create a vision and innovate. By staying focused on new ideas that no other company was working on, Jobs was able to create a vision, develop novel products within that vision, and then do it again and again. On its 25 October 2005 cover, Time magazine hailed Jobs as "the man who always seems to know what's next." His legacy extends beyond the technology and computing worlds into other businesses.

Focus on design. Good design is the hallmark of most Apple products. The company's design process honors and addresses users' needs—both expressed and perceived. Jobs showed that being the first to launch a new product is less important than being the first to launch a product that embraces good design and is of value to its users. The iPod, for example, came four years after the first MP3 players on the market, but it quickly surpassed them when it debuted. The iPod was the first user-friendly and innovative means of accessing music on the go. Its physical design, the minimalist layout, the screen with playlists, and the easy-access buttons made it successful, and the iTunes store made it easier for people to discover and buy music and organize it into personal playlists.

Engineer software and hardware together. Most tech companies specialized in either hardware or software, but Jobs pursued both. Apple built systems encompassing hardware and software, closely aligning the device and its operating environment to optimize system performance. Apple built a mobile phone running its operating system and created a store where users could download a wide variety of apps and games that run on it, thus embracing vertical integration. Jobs led Apple in building technological systems, not simply products, and that distinct strategy made Apple Apple.

Get your priorities straight. Jobs excelled at choosing the right project at the right time and deciding its features. It's a skill that many professionals lack. Saying "No" matters. It's only by saying "No" that you can concentrate on the things that are really important. On making choices, Jobs said, "I'm as proud of what we don't do as I am of what we do."

Embrace multidisciplinary perspectives. Apple's tech products' success and popularity are attributed, in part, to their artistic and humanistic flavor. With their sleek looks and intuitive features, they embed aspects of the arts and humanities. As Jobs had emphasized, "Technology alone is not enough. It is technology married with the liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing." He provided in his products a compelling user experience in ways not previously envisioned. Start with the customer experience and work back toward technology, he advised.

Pay attention to details and strive for perfection. To get things right, Jobs paid attention to every detail—and from multiple angles. He achieved the best products, best design, best quality, and best delivery. Attention to detail is the ability to achieve thoroughness and accuracy when accomplishing a task. Being detail-oriented is essential to delivering quality work and reducing errors. Jobs's genuine passion for detail is what made his company's products stand out.

Keep improving. Users want to be delighted with new offerings that further enhance their product experience. Apple constantly developed follow-up versions designed to improve the user experience while introducing new products. Developers and business executives should always be considering potential improvements to their products and services.

Master your communication. You might have a novel idea, but if you can't get people excited about it, you can't sell it and move your idea forward. You need to tell a compelling story or make a convincing, realistic case. Jobs was a captivating communicator and a great corporate storyteller.

His Macworld keynotes—known as Stevenotes—were fascinating. He showed upfront the benefits, features, and end-user experiences his products and services offered—not just boring specifications. To make a persuasive presentation, he would deliver a story or a statement that excited the audience; pose a problem or a question that had to be solved or answered; offer a solution to the problem he raised; describe benefits for adopting the course of action he proposed; and state a call to action ("Now go out and buy").

People have criticized Jobs's personal traits. But, as G. Pascal Zachary wrote in a 2011 IEEE Spectrum article, "Despite his infamous bad temper, his impatience, and his penchant for tantrums, Jobs was the ultimate human-centered technologist—even while he was the ultimate digital autocrat."

To learn more about Jobs's strategy, passion, and leadership, view this slideshow and listen to his inspiring 2005 commencement address at Stanford University. He told three stories about connecting the dots, love and loss, and death.

As Tim Cook, the current CEO of Apple, wrote to his staff recently, Jobs "challenged us to see the world not for what it was but for what it could be. [He] was a singular figure, but he taught us all how to soar."

Adopting Jobs's lessons in our work can help us create a lasting legacy that we and others can be proud of.

Jobs's valuable general advice, delivered in that 2005 Stanford speech:

"You've got to find what you love. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking.

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And, most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition."

The Conversation (1)
Vaishnavi Pillai08 Nov, 2021

Apple focuses strongly on creating what Ricardo Saltz Gulko would call, ‘Simplified Experiences’. In fact, one of their company values is literally, ‘We believe in the simple, not the complex’. Check out this article to know more. https://bit.ly/3mMpZNn

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The Inner Beauty of Basic Electronics

Open Circuits showcases the surprising complexity of passive components

5 min read
A photo of a high-stability film resistor with the letters "MIS" in yellow.
All photos by Eric Schlaepfer & Windell H. Oskay

Eric Schlaepfer was trying to fix a broken piece of test equipment when he came across the cause of the problem—a troubled tantalum capacitor. The component had somehow shorted out, and he wanted to know why. So he polished it down for a look inside. He never found the source of the short, but he and his collaborator, Windell H. Oskay, discovered something even better: a breathtaking hidden world inside electronics. What followed were hours and hours of polishing, cleaning, and photography that resulted in Open Circuits: The Inner Beauty of Electronic Components (No Starch Press, 2022), an excerpt of which follows. As the authors write, everything about these components is deliberately designed to meet specific technical needs, but that design leads to “accidental beauty: the emergent aesthetics of things you were never expected to see.”

From a book that spans the wide world of electronics, what we at IEEE Spectrum found surprisingly compelling were the insides of things we don’t spend much time thinking about, passive components. Transistors, LEDs, and other semiconductors may be where the action is, but the simple physics of resistors, capacitors, and inductors have their own sort of splendor.

High-Stability Film Resistor

A photo of a high-stability film resistor with the letters "MIS" in yellow.

All photos by Eric Schlaepfer & Windell H. Oskay

This high-stability film resistor, about 4 millimeters in diameter, is made in much the same way as its inexpensive carbon-film cousin, but with exacting precision. A ceramic rod is coated with a fine layer of resistive film (thin metal, metal oxide, or carbon) and then a perfectly uniform helical groove is machined into the film.

Instead of coating the resistor with an epoxy, it’s hermetically sealed in a lustrous little glass envelope. This makes the resistor more robust, ideal for specialized cases such as precision reference instrumentation, where long-term stability of the resistor is critical. The glass envelope provides better isolation against moisture and other environmental changes than standard coatings like epoxy.

15-Turn Trimmer Potentiometer

A photo of a blue chip
A photo of a blue chip on a circuit board.

It takes 15 rotations of an adjustment screw to move a 15-turn trimmer potentiometer from one end of its resistive range to the other. Circuits that need to be adjusted with fine resolution control use this type of trimmer pot instead of the single-turn variety.

The resistive element in this trimmer is a strip of cermet—a composite of ceramic and metal—silk-screened on a white ceramic substrate. Screen-printed metal links each end of the strip to the connecting wires. It’s a flattened, linear version of the horseshoe-shaped resistive element in single-turn trimmers.

Turning the adjustment screw moves a plastic slider along a track. The wiper is a spring finger, a spring-loaded metal contact, attached to the slider. It makes contact between a metal strip and the selected point on the strip of resistive film.

Ceramic Disc Capacitor

A cutaway of a Ceramic Disc Capacitor
A photo of a Ceramic Disc Capacitor

Capacitors are fundamental electronic components that store energy in the form of static electricity. They’re used in countless ways, including for bulk energy storage, to smooth out electronic signals, and as computer memory cells. The simplest capacitor consists of two parallel metal plates with a gap between them, but capacitors can take many forms so long as there are two conductive surfaces, called electrodes, separated by an insulator.

A ceramic disc capacitor is a low-cost capacitor that is frequently found in appliances and toys. Its insulator is a ceramic disc, and its two parallel plates are extremely thin metal coatings that are evaporated or sputtered onto the disc’s outer surfaces. Connecting wires are attached using solder, and the whole assembly is dipped into a porous coating material that dries hard and protects the capacitor from damage.

Film Capacitor

An image of a cut away of a capacitor
A photo of a green capacitor.

Film capacitors are frequently found in high-quality audio equipment, such as headphone amplifiers, record players, graphic equalizers, and radio tuners. Their key feature is that the dielectric material is a plastic film, such as polyester or polypropylene.

The metal electrodes of this film capacitor are vacuum-deposited on the surfaces of long strips of plastic film. After the leads are attached, the films are rolled up and dipped into an epoxy that binds the assembly together. Then the completed assembly is dipped in a tough outer coating and marked with its value.

Other types of film capacitors are made by stacking flat layers of metallized plastic film, rather than rolling up layers of film.

Dipped Tantalum Capacitor

A photo of a cutaway of a Dipped Tantalum Capacitor

At the core of this capacitor is a porous pellet of tantalum metal. The pellet is made from tantalum powder and sintered, or compressed at a high temperature, into a dense, spongelike solid.

Just like a kitchen sponge, the resulting pellet has a high surface area per unit volume. The pellet is then anodized, creating an insulating oxide layer with an equally high surface area. This process packs a lot of capacitance into a compact device, using spongelike geometry rather than the stacked or rolled layers that most other capacitors use.

The device’s positive terminal, or anode, is connected directly to the tantalum metal. The negative terminal, or cathode, is formed by a thin layer of conductive manganese dioxide coating the pellet.

Axial Inductor

An image of a cutaway of a Axial Inductor
A photo of a collection of cut wires

Inductors are fundamental electronic components that store energy in the form of a magnetic field. They’re used, for example, in some types of power supplies to convert between voltages by alternately storing and releasing energy. This energy-efficient design helps maximize the battery life of cellphones and other portable electronics.

Inductors typically consist of a coil of insulated wire wrapped around a core of magnetic material like iron or ferrite, a ceramic filled with iron oxide. Current flowing around the core produces a magnetic field that acts as a sort of flywheel for current, smoothing out changes in the current as it flows through the inductor.

This axial inductor has a number of turns of varnished copper wire wrapped around a ferrite form and soldered to copper leads on its two ends. It has several layers of protection: a clear varnish over the windings, a light-green coating around the solder joints, and a striking green outer coating to protect the whole component and provide a surface for the colorful stripes that indicate its inductance value.

Power Supply Transformer

A photo of a collection of cut wires
A photo of a yellow element on a circuit board.

This transformer has multiple sets of windings and is used in a power supply to create multiple output AC voltages from a single AC input such as a wall outlet.

The small wires nearer the center are “high impedance” turns of magnet wire. These windings carry a higher voltage but a lower current. They’re protected by several layers of tape, a copper-foil electrostatic shield, and more tape.

The outer “low impedance” windings are made with thicker insulated wire and fewer turns. They handle a lower voltage but a higher current.

All of the windings are wrapped around a black plastic bobbin. Two pieces of ferrite ceramic are bonded together to form the magnetic core at the heart of the transformer.

This article appears in the February 2023 print issue.