Guy Kawasaki: "What I Learned from Steve Jobs"

A version of this article originally appeared in Vision: Fresh Perspectives from Dubai in November 2016.


The Good Guy

Apple’s former Chief Evangelist on Steve Jobs, delusional innovation and why customers don’t have all the answers

We don’t know any more than those of you entrepreneurs here in Dubai do. You may think that we Silicon Valley folks know precisely what future trends in technology may be or the next big startup business model, but trust me, we don’t. There is nothing magical or infallible about Silicon Valley.
— Guy Kawasaki

As we settle into a relatively quiet corner of the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Guy Kawasaki — whom I’ve just seen regale the audience with a riveting and rip-roaringly funny talk — admits the jet lag is getting to him. Just my luck that it’s also making him incredibly pithy and blunt. When I asked Kawasaki, best known as the former Chief Evangelist for Apple, why he left the now iconic tech giant at the height of his career (he was part of the core team originally responsible for marketing the Macintosh computer line in 1984), he doesn’t mince words: “It was the arrogance of youth. I thought I was the bomb and believed my own hype. I thought I too could become a multimillionaire software entrepreneur.”

Today, Kawasaki is an Apple Fellow and Silicon Valley-based author and investor. Considered one of America’s foremost marketing gurus, he popularized the concepts of “evangelism marketing” and “technology evangelism” and several of his best-selling books form part of the curriculum at some of the world’s top business and marketing programs.

“In Silicon Valley, we suffer from the delusion that anything is possible and I think it has mostly worked in our favor,” shares Kawasaki, citing the examples of YouTube and Google “There were already a number of relatively popular search engines in the world, did the world need another one at that point in time? Probably not. But they built it anyway!”

I questioned Kawasaki on some of the tenets he shared during his talk and got him to distill the top SIX things he learned from his boss Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple during his tenure at the technology titan. Read on!

  1. ONLY COMPETENCE MATTERS: “Steve was a total perfectionist which often made him a difficult person to work for. You were either incredible or terrible, nothing in between. A lot of people feared him. But he was also incredibly fair and impartial towards his employees, long before political correctness was the order of the day in American society. Steve didn’t care what race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion you were. What mattered was that you were good at what you did.”

  2. CUSTOMERS CAN’T TELL YOU WHAT YOU NEED: “Don’t expect your customers to know exactly what they need. Imagine if Kodak asked their customers what they wanted, they’d probably say film that captures color better, is cheaper, more pictures per roll. They wouldn’t have said move away from chemical technology and go digital!”  

  3. AIM HIGH: “Steve Jobs believed in epic and seemingly-impossible battles. His mission was to prevent IBM from controlling computing and the flow of information. It wasn’t easy but he believed in his lofty vision and was always challenging himself and his team to keep pushing.”

  4. LESS IS MORE: “Whether it was design or employee headcount, Steve Jobs believed in keeping it minimal while maximising on efficacy. The best example of this, besides Apple’s products of course, is what I call ‘The Steve Jobs’ slide. If you look at any of Steve Jobs presentations, his slides rarely had more than five to six words on there. He conveyed his message with powerful simplicity.”

  5. CHANGING YOUR MIND CAN BE THE MOST INTELLIGENT THING TO DO: “To many people, changing your mind means you’re wishy-washy. They see it as a sign of weakness and stupidity. But not Steve. He famously changed his mind in the  late 2000s, when he realized that making the iPhone a closed system, impenetrable to standalone applications was a no-go. That was a very public reversal and the right way to go for the product and for consumers overall. When you realize you’re wrong, change your mind and if you need to, change your path.”

  6. BELIEVE IT IF YOU WANT TO SEE IT: “This is the story of Apple. Think about the mid-90s when Apple was in serious turmoil. Steve Jobs had been fired and the future of the company was murky. Who would’ve believed then that Apple would have become the first $700 billion company? But in Silicon Valley, over the decades we’re learned to believe that anything is possible, just like the leaders and people of Dubai do. You believe in a promising future for Dubai and you have grand ambitions for your city, and you work towards it and it will materialize, it will happen.”