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Lessons from Steve Jobs

The former Apple CEO changed the world with his inventions, but he also left behind some sage advice.

Articulate and visionary, Steve Jobs spent a lot of time talking about what made Apple a great, innovative company. In devoting time to explaining his methods, he imparted myriad suggestions and tidbits of advice on how companies could streamline their processes, better understand their customers and offer products worth talking about. Even if you’ve never owned an iPod, iMac or iPhone, there’s plenty of iHelp in the words of advice and wisdom he left behind.

On Products: “Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff.”

This particular piece of advice was a morsel Jobs offered to Mark Parker when he was promoted to CEO of Nike. Jobs suggested that while Nike made some gear people drooled over, it also made a lot of products that were just filling the shelves. By eliminating those lesser wares, the brand would represent the kind of excellence Parker wanted. Parker took Jobs’ advice and “edited” Nike’s lines down to the essentials. And as anyone who has ever set foot in the door of an Apple store knows, Jobs lived by his own advice—devote all your resources into a few great products and watch people line up like it’s a Boxing Day sale.

Jobs’ advice came in handy again as Parker built his company’s portfolio during the economic downturn and during the career meltdown of Nike spokesman Tiger Woods. Nike’s portfolio of sponsored athletes shrunk, it laid off employees and its product lines became more focused. Some sports like tennis and swimming got less attention, but during this time Nike made a firm push into the Chinese markets, and other brands owned by Nike, like Converse and Umbro, became more focused.

Yes, focusing on Nike’s strengths served Parker well, even if his office didn’t exactly embrace the same kind of minimalism.

On Presentations: “There’s clearly something in the air today.”

Anyone who watched Apple CEO Tim Cook’s recent presentation knows there’s a difference between a good presenter and being Steve Jobs. Carmine Gallo, author of The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs: Insanely Different Principles for Breakthrough Success, is a presentation, media-training and communication-skills coach who has devoted a lot of time to looking at exactly what made Jobs successful on-stage and translating it into tips for professionals. “You are being judged to a large degree on your ability to communicate what you do. The big difference between extraordinary communicators like Steve Jobs and the average leader is that people like Jobs use presentations to complement the message,” he says.

On Management: “Teamwork is dependant on trusting the other folks to come through with their part without watching them all the time.”

Over the course of his career at Apple, Jobs was accused of tyrannical outbursts and unorthodox management strategies. But in one interview he was asked about the “wonderful arguments” he had with the heads of different divisions at Apple. When asked if members of his team ever challenge him, or tell him that he’s wrong, he laughed and said yes. And when asked if he won all the arguments, his answer was no. But whatever happened in the boardrooms of Apple, his next piece of advice is a valuable one for any good leader who wants to surround themselves with top talent and retain those skilled workers: “If you want to hire great people and want them to stay working for you, you have to let them make a lot of decisions and you have to be run by ideas, and not hierarchy.”

On Branding: “Values and core values. Those things shouldn’t change.”

Years ago, Jobs made a speech about advertising. The company’s iconic “1984” commercial (still touted as one of the world’s best ads) became instantly iconic, and there was a lot of focus on Apple’s advertising skill. In the clip, Jobs talks about the difference between selling a product and selling an idea in a pertinent reminder that it’s people’s core values that remain the same when the markets change, and new products are introduced.

Finally, Steve Jobs offered plenty of advice on life, death and pursuing your dreams in his 2005 commencement speech made to a graduating class at Stanford.