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How to Think Like Steve Jobs? Simplify

November 2nd, 2011

jobsVolumes have now been written about Steve Jobs and his monumental achievements and contributions to the business and consumer world. Paradoxically, though, it’s what he “left out” that helped shape so much of his success before he died October 5th.

Jobs had an uncanny ability to define the essential elements of anything-and ruthlessly cut everything else out. The result would be a long string of artistic masterpieces: the Apple logo, the Macintosh, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad. Compare it to the typical hardware product like a Windows-based PC, usually loaded with features we don’t need. Simplicity and elegance vs complexity and baggage.

“That was the essence of Jobs’ unique genius — understanding that absence defines presence; that the only path to the great new things of the future was the merciless elimination of the good old things of the past,” Jeff Yang writes in a nice piece in the Wall Street Journal.

Jobs turned simplicity into a new art form for the business world. He showed that simplifying is both art and science, one that requires a Zen-like mindset and thinking.

Brilliant thinkers (Einstein), artists (Leonardo da Vinci), leaders and orators (FDR, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King) do this naturally. But most of us get bogged down before we even get out of the chute. Why? We know too much (the “curse of knowledge”) and/or we want to do too much, and please everyone.

When I was writing executive speeches, I was constantly fending off product marketing managers with their pitches. The presentation was like a cargo train, with everyone piling on their baggage. Eventually it bogged down. Compare that to a typical Steve Jobs presentation with the crisp messaging, and simple, powerful imagery. Every word, graphic and demonstration had a reason.

To achieve simplicity, try stepping back to a sort of mental balcony and reviewing your presentation–or any challenge-anew. Take off your binders and preconceptions and see things through a fresh, unfiltered lense. Only then can you see the problem objectively. Then focus on a single message. You won’t please everyone anyhow, so why try?

This applies to social media activities as well.

We’re constantly under pressure to boil the ocean in corporate America. Big complex programs can be waived around in front of senior management like trophies. When I was at Hewlett Packard, my manager wanted my group to drive social media for the entire Enterprise organization, representing several big business organizations and tens of thousands of employees. She had no idea how it would happen, but she knew it would look good before management.

My solution was to start small: two carefully focused pilot programs in different organizations with teams of motivated people. From these and over two months I developed a set of best practices and processes that I would use across the entire organization. I probably saved months of work and painful trial and error (and my own sanity).

Blogs and stories should be simple too. We’re not writing long-winded essays, but short communications bursts. Develop a central theme or argument, build your case in 3 or 4 points (add supporting stories and data as needed) and drive to a clear conclusion. And remember you’re not writing a perfect blog or story, it just needs to be good. Adapt a “just good enough” mindset.

It all starts in the mind, and that’s where we struggle the most. If you can’t tune out the noise and focus on the problem at hand, you’ll never get too far-professionally or personally.

Psychologist and author Wayne Dyer put it this way: ?”It has been said that it’s the space between the bars that holds the tiger. And it’s the silence between the notes that makes the music. It is out of the silence, or “the gap,” or that space between our thoughts, that everything is created…”

Embrace the silence. Keep it simple. Then go out and do something wonderful.

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