Since the passing of Steve Jobs, I’ve been wondering, what does it take to be extraordinary? How would Steve answer that?

One positive outcome of Steve’s death, is we’re hearing more from Apple employees, current and former, who worked with Steve. Before, much of the speculation about culture at Apple was just that, speculation.

Reading these employee remembrances and thinking of extraordinary experiences in my own life, I don’t think I can wake up tomorrow and say, “I’m going to be extraordinary today.” (I’ve tried that periodically with ordinary results). Extraordinary may be easier to achieve when the focus is creating and delivering products that delight customers. When the products exceed customer expectations and even customer imagination. When I look at Jobs’ career timeline, his latest string of successes didn’t happen overnight. It’s a long-term strategy, with many failures and reinventions before the iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad. And a creative team and a CEO who understand and are willing to undertake the long journey.

Guy Kawasaki, who worked at Apple twice during his career, shares two lessons learned from Jobs.

Customers cannot tell you what they need.
 “Apple market research” is an oxymoron. The Apple focus group was the right hemisphere of Steve’s brain talking to the left one. If you ask customers what they want, they will tell you, “Better, faster, and cheaper” — that is, better sameness, not revolutionary change. They can only describe their desires in terms of what they are already using — around the time of the introduction of Macintosh, all people said they wanted was better, faster, and cheaper MS-DOS machines. The richest vein for tech startups is creating the product that you want to use—that’s what Steve and Woz did.

Jump to the next curve.
 Big wins happen when you go beyond better sameness. The best daisy-wheel printer companies were introducing new fonts in more sizes. Apple introduced the next curve: laser printing. Think of ice harvesters, ice factories, and refrigerator companies. Ice 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0. Are you still harvesting ice during the winter from a frozen pond? — “What I learned from Steve Jobs” at

And from Tony Fadell, a former Apple executive who led iPod and iPhone development from 2001 to 2009:

Six weeks before the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, Mr. Jobs ordered a crucial design change. Until then, the planning for supplies, manufacturing and engineering had been based on the assumption that the smartphone’s face would be plastic, recalls Fadell…. Plastic is less fragile than glass, and easier to make.

But the plastic touch screen had a drawback. It was prone to developing scratches. Those scratches, Mr. Jobs insisted, would irritate users and be seen as a design flaw. “All the logical facts told us to go with plastic, and Steve’s instinct went the other way,” Mr. Fadell says. “It was Steve’s call — his gut.”

The glass choice was a challenge that seemed “nearly impossible” at the time, he says — a last-minute scramble to get supplies of specialized glass and tweak the design of the phone’s casing to reduce the chances the glass would crack when an iPhone was dropped. But with extra investment and a frenetic work regimen, the switch proved doable, despite the tight deadline.

The episode, Mr. Fadell says, points to a principle he took away from his years working with Mr. Jobs. “You do not cut corners and you make sure the customer gets an experience that is an absolute delight,” observes Mr. Fadell, who heads a Silicon Valley start-up company whose product has not yet been disclosed and will not compete with Apple. — “The Power of Taking the Big Chance” by Steve Lohr, New York Times, Sunday, October 9, 2011

I can imagine Steve asking his team, “How would you want it to be? If we had all the time, money and technology we needed, what would we create?”

How would Steve answer, what does it take to be extraordinary?

“Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” — Steve Jobs, from 2005 Stanford commencement address

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