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Apple's Steve Jobs with the iPhone (PAUL SAKUMA/PAUL SAKUMA/AP)
Apple's Steve Jobs with the iPhone (PAUL SAKUMA/PAUL SAKUMA/AP)

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Four innovation secrets of Steve Jobs Add to ...

The New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, challenged the U.S government to create more jobs - Steve Jobs. He suggested that the only way to emerge from the recession is to foster an environment where innovation is encouraged. Friedman could not have chosen a better role model. For more than 30 years, Steve Jobs has been introducing new and creative ideas and products that move society forward - the very essence of "innovation." It's one thing to say we should create more "Steve Jobs," but how? What lessons can we learn from the legendary entrepreneur? Here are four principles that can help you turn ideas into successful products, services and companies.

#1 Put a Dent in the Universe Innovation requires a team and you cannot inspire evangelists unless you offer a compelling vision. In 1977 a young software programmer, Rob Campbell, was excited about the emerging class of personal computers and began searching for a position at one of the companies at the forefront of the revolution. Campbell first visited Tandy Computers. "What is your vision for the personal computer?" he asked. "We think it could be the next big thing on everyone's wish list for the holiday season!" Tandy executives exclaimed. Uninspired, Campbell visited Commodore, a company that introduced a personal computer in 1977. Commodore's stock was trading at less than one dollar a share. "What is your vision for the personal computer?" Campbell asked. "We think it could help our stock rise above two dollars a share," Commodore executives said excitedly.

Uninspired, Campbell decided to take Steve Jobs up on an invitation to meet for lunch. "What is your vision for the personal computer?" Campbell asked Jobs. Campbell said what happened next still gives him goose-bumps. "Steve Jobs was a magical storyteller," Campbell told me. "For the next hour, he talked about how personal computers were going to change the world. He painted a picture of how it would change everything about the way we worked, educated our children and entertained ourselves. You couldn't help but buy in."

"I do believe there is such a thing as dreaming the dream of a grand vision," according to Creative Strategies President, Tim Bajarin, who has been following Apple since the early 1980s. "Great entrepreneurs are focused on today, but the most innovative have a road map of where they will be tomorrow." Passion is the fuel that gives you energy to pursue your dreams, but vision gives the rocket direction.

#2 Sell Dreams, Not Products Steve Jobs doesn't rely on focus groups. "Steve Jobs avoids most focus groups like the plague," says tech analyst Rob Enderle. "It comes down to the very real fact that most customers don't know what they want in a new product." Apple customers should be glad Jobs doesn't do focus groups. If he had, they may never have enjoyed iPods, iTunes, the iPhone, the iPad, or Apple Stores. Jobs doesn't need focus groups because he understands his customers really, really well.

Yes, sometimes better than they know themselves! When Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 after a 12-year absence, Apple faced an uncertain future. Jobs closed his presentation that year at Macworld in Boston with an observation that set the tone for Apple's resurgence: "I think you have to think differently to buy an Apple computer. I think the people who do buy them do think differently. They are the creative spirits in this world. They are people who are not out to get a job done; they are out to change the world. And they are out to change the world using whatever great tools they can get. And we make tools for those kinds of people...a lot of times people think they're crazy, but in that craziness we see genius."

Sure, "listen" to your customers and ask them for feedback. Apple does that all the time. But when it comes to breakthrough success at Apple, Steve Jobs and his team are the company's best focus group. Asked why Apple doesn't do focus groups, Jobs responded: "We figure out what we want. You can't go out and ask people 'what's the next big thing?' There's a great quote by Henry Ford. He said, "If I'd have asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me 'A faster horse.'" Nobody cares about your company or product. They care about themselves, their dreams, and their goals. Help them achieve their aspirations and you'll win them over the Steve Jobs way.

#3 Say No to 1,000 Things Steve Jobs once said the secret to innovation comes from "Saying no to 1,000 things." In other words, Jobs is as proud of what Apple chooses not to do as he is about what Apple chooses to focus on. This philosophy has helped Apple introduce products that wow consumers because of their elegance and simplicity. "Great design means that one look and the end user reacts by knowing what to do with a knob or a button, without as much as even thinking about it," wrote technology analyst Om Malik.

In October 2008, Apple introduced its next-generation MacBook laptop computer. Steve Jobs invited Jonathan Ive onstage to explain the new process of building mobile computers, a process that allowed Apple to offer notebooks that were lighter and sturdier. Ive told the audience that Apple's new "aluminum unibody enclosure" eliminated 60 per cent of the computer's major structural parts. Reducing the number of parts naturally made the computer thinner. Contrary to what you'd expect, eliminating parts also made it more rigid and robust - the computer was stronger. According to Ive, "We are absolutely consumed by trying to develop a solution that is very simple, because as physical beings we understand clarity."

Your customers demand simplicity and simplicity requires that you eliminate anything that clutters the user experience - whether it be in product design, web site navigation, marketing and advertising materials and presentation slides. Say "no" more often than "yes."

#4 Create Insanely Great Experiences There are no cashiers at an Apple Store. There are specialists, creatives - even geniuses - but no cashiers. Although the Apple Stores have no commissioned sales staff, they generate more revenue per square foot than most other widely recognized brands. Why? According to Jobs, "People don't want to just buy personal computers anymore. They want to know what they can do with them, and we're going to show people exactly that." Apple created an innovative retail experience by studying a company known for its customer experience - The Four Seasons. According to Ron Johnson, Apple senior vice-president of retail operations, Apple Stores would attract shoppers not by moving boxes, but by "enriching lives." Apple would offer customers a concierge-like experience, much like a customer would receive in an elegant hotel. Enrich lives and watch your sales soar.

In a documentary on the making of the film, Jaws, Steven Spielberg said that he was forced to improvise when the mechanical shark failed. He asked himself, "What would Hitchcock do?" The answer: Hitchcock would never show the shark. the global economy is in the jaws of the worst recession in decades. How do we emerge from the recession stronger, more inspired and more innovative than ever? Steve Jobs has been leaving clues to his success for more than thirty years. We need to look at history as a guide and ask ourselves, "What would Steve do?"

Carmine Gallo is the communications coach for the world's most admired brands. His new book, The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs: Insanely Different Principles for Breakthrough Success is published by McGraw-Hill. Visit Carmine at www.carminegallo.com.

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  • Updated June 28 1:34 PM EDT. Delayed by at least 15 minutes.

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