Another Lesson From Steve Jobs: A Driving Vision Has 4 Key Elements

Steve Jobs often saw further than his competitors. His vision had four defining features that we can all learn from.

[The following is an excerpt from What Would Steve Jobs Do?: How the Steve Jobs Way Can Inspire Anyone to Think Differently and Win by Peter Sander (McGraw Hill). To read the first excerpt, on hiring pirates, go here.]


A visionary has passion, but vision and passion aren’t the same thing. A passionate leader without a clear vision won’t succeed; likewise, neither will a visionary leader without passion.

Passionate leaders without a vision will often confuse the troops or put a higher level of energy and stress on the organization. That organization will flounder around with frequent starts and stops and strategy changes, and will eventually burn out. Visionary leaders without passion will have a hard time keeping their troops engaged, and some may question the veracity or credibility of the vision in the first place if the leader doesn’t seem to be excited about it.

Vision and passion go together. A leader who has a good vision and is passionate about it will get further with subordinates. Abraham Lincoln showed that with his unwavering focus on preserving the Union and his undivided passion for doing so. Steve Jobs exuded passion to the absolute max in his creation of a team, in his messages to the team, in his attention to the details of the project, and in his theatrical product launches. Nobody could question his passion, and thus, nobody could question his vision. The passion made the vision stronger.

As a leader, you need to realize that passion and vision must be in balance; too much passion without enough vision is confusing and stressful; too much vision without passion can be bland and alienating.

It’s All About Synthesis

More often than not, a vision is a synthesis of ideas or products or technologies around a specific customer need or idea. For those of us who don’t develop visions naturally, or at least as naturally as Steve Jobs did, here are a few patterns you can follow to build or enhance a vision:

Visions combine things
Ideas, products, and technologies are “mushed” together to arrive at an epiphany solution. The iPod Touch, a phone, and an Internet communications device became the iPhone. Earlier on, a small disk drive, a new battery, FireWire, and iTunes turned into the iPod. Still earlier, a graphical user interface, a one-piece cabinet, and a 3.5-inch floppy drive became the Macintosh.


Visions connect things
Visionaries can apply or “cross” existing concepts or technologies across new platforms. The modern “big-box” retail format was crossed with the traditional lumberyard to come up with Home Depot, and was crossed with the used-car business to create CarMax. The love of coffee and an Italian ambience were crossed with the decline of alcohol and the corner bar to create the Starbucks coffee vision. The iPad could be loosely described as a cross between a PC and an iPhone.

Visions apply the new to the old
This is similar to the connect idea, except that it specifically involves new technologies. Digital technology and miniaturization can be applied to modernize a traditional music (or book) library. Microwave technology, developed for defense applications, can be used to cook food (that originally seemed to be a bigger vision than it actually turned out to be, because microwaves don’t cook all foods well). Many a vision for how to apply the Internet to almost anything came forth during the dot-com boom–but just because someone has a vision doesn’t mean it’s right!

Visions create value propositions
Customers are usually willing to trade off something to get something better, and value proposition–centered visions capitalize on this. Southwest had a clear vision that customers would accept no meals in flight, no first class, no assigned seats, and no interline baggage in return for cheap fares. CarMax figured that people would pay a somewhat higher price to get a haggle-free and trustworthy car-buying experience. Starbucks figured that people would pay $3.45 for a latte to get an intellectually stimulating third place. Apple figured that people would pay 99 cents for songs to get a reliable download and copyright peace of mind.

If you know your customers and know your business, you should be able to build a vision around one or more of these patterns.

Buy What Would Steve Jobs Do? for $14 at Amazon.

[Images: Hu Xiao Fang, R. Mackay Photography/Shutterstock]