Steve Jobs: ‘Technology is nothing’—here’s what he said it really takes to achieve great success

It’s been eight years since Steve Jobs passed away on Oct. 5, 2011, but his lessons about life, work and success still live on today.

In a 1994, the Apple co-founder sat down for an interview with Rolling Stone. At the time, Jobs was at one of the lowest points of his career; he had long ago been booted from Apple, and the personal computer revolution seemed to be dimming. And yet, when asked if he still believed in the limitless potential of technology, Jobs answered yes.

“But it’s not a faith in technology. It’s faith in people,” he said.

‘Tools are just tools’

“Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart — and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them,” he said. “Tools are just tools. They either work, or they don’t work.”

Put another way, Jobs believed that in order to achieve great success and create revolutionary changes in the world, we must learn to prioritize the intersection of technology and the humanities, because that’s how the best ideas emerge.

Jobs took this philosophy seriously. Years after he rejoined Apple in 1997, it was clear that he had become a far better leader. His goal, according to Walter Isaacson’s biography “Steve Jobs,” was to build an enduring company that prioritized people. Everything else — products and profits — while still important, would be secondary.

Jobs’ vision paid off: He had successfully shifted Apple’s focus back to making cutting-edge products, which resulted in a phase of unprecedented growth for the company.

Here’s how Jobs’ put his “faith in people” into practice:

1. He hired the right people and trusted them to perform

Jobs understood the cost of hiring the wrong people. He was heavily involved in major hiring decisions, and remained so even after taking medical leave.

Plenty of people have a breadth of knowledge that enables them to make good decisions under a variety of circumstances, but you can’t possibly be an expert at everything. The best leaders know what they don’t know, and they bring in experts to help them plan their next move.

As Jobs once said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

2. He delivered his demand for excellence in a inspiring way

To many, Jobs’ version of “having faith in people” might not be considered the norm. His occasionally abrasive style of leadership has been described as “terrorizing” and “extremely demanding.”

But, as proven by Apple’s success, it worked. “Jobs’ rudeness and roughness were accompanied by an ability to be inspirational,” Isaacson wrote in a Harvard Business Review article.

Indeed, Jobs knew how to “infuse Apple employees with an abiding passion to create groundbreaking products and a belief that they could accomplish what seemed impossible,” according to Isaacson.

The author recalled Jobs once telling him: “I’ve learned over the years that when you have really good people, you don’t have to baby them. By expecting them to do great things, you can get them to do great things.”

3. He taught them about humility

Some people might get a chuckle out of this one, considering Jobs was known to have a certain degree of arrogance, but he also had the capacity to admit when he was wrong and change his opinion entirely.

Guy Kawasaki, former chief evangelist at Apple who worked closely with the tech visionary, told CNBC Make It that one of the most important lessons he learned from Jobs “is that changing your mind, changing what you’re doing and reversing yourself at an extreme is a sign of intelligence.”

When Jobs first introduced the iPhone in 2007, for example, it was a closed system — no one outside of Apple could create an app for it. A year later, Jobs made a complete “180-degree reversal,” Kawasaki said. He opened the system to the public after realizing how much more the device could offer customers with apps written by anyone with a good idea.

In a world of stark dichotomies, it’s good to be fearless about changing sides or altering courses.

4. He taught them to focus

After his return to Apple, Jobs would take his top employees on annual retreats. On the last day of each retreat, Isaacson wrote, he’d stand in front of a whiteboard and ask everybody: “What are the 10 things we should be doing next?”

People would fight to get their suggestions on the list. “Jobs would write them down — and then cross off the ones he decreed dumb,” Isaacson continued. “After much jockeying, the group would come up with a list of 10. Then, Jobs would slash seven of them and announce, ‘We can only do three.’”

The theatrics of the activity were meant to teach his employees about focus. “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do,” Jobs told Isaacson. “That’s true for companies, and it’s true for products.”

5. He engaged face-to-face

If Jobs were alive today, it’d be unlikely for anyone to get a Slack reply from him. According to Isaacson, Jobs believed in the power of in-person conversations and always preferred face-to-face meetings.

“There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat,” he told Isaacson. “That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions.”

Even at Pixar, Jobs made sure the building was designed to get people out of their offices and interact with others. The front doors and main stairs and corridors all led to the atrium, which housed essentials like a fitness center, cafe, employee mailboxes and the only set of bathrooms.

It was meant to be the heart of the headquarters, the place where people ran into each other, talked and came up with the most inventive ideas.

Marcel Schwantes is a speaker, executive coach and workplace strategist. As a leadership coach, he addresses the elements required to create human-centered workplaces that result in high-performing cultures. Marcel is also the host of the “Leadership from the Core” podcast.

This article first appeared on CNBC and is republished with its permission.

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