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There’s been a lot written about Steve Jobs in the last 24 hours, so I’m not going to try to compete with all of the quotes, anecdotes, and proofs of how great he was and what a profound effect he had on all of us living through this digital revolution. It’s unanimous, and hashing over it is a way for us all to comfort ourselves in the strange grief we feel for losing someone who was important to the world.

I did, however, want to acknowledge him as perhaps THE inspiration to me and my current profession. A Product Manager is a relatively new role in the grand scheme of things, though innovative people have been creating products for thousands of years without any such title. But the job is really about two things: innovation and execution. Those are two things that Steve Jobs embodied.

In terms of innovation, it’s obvious to all that it was his vision and willpower that resulted in the most elegant examples of technology I can think of. The iPod was a leap forward. The iPhone created a revolution. The iPad is simply magic, and engineering magic is always a Product Manager’s ultimate goal. Steve Jobs didn’t just skate to where the puck was going to be, he changed the game while playing it, and made us all look dim-witted and short-sighted.

In terms of execution, he was able to inspire people to do more, better, faster, and ultimately to share the vision and sacrifice to ensure it was fulfilled. He was able to leapfrog the competition or create a new market by showing people the way it could be, the way it ought to be, instead of settling for variations on the way it is.

A great Product Manager inspires their teams and leads with confidence, clarity, and focus. They don’t respect mediocrity. Steve Jobs was something more; he had no tolerance for excellence – instead he demanded greatness.

By many accounts he was also agile in that respected challenges to his vision and allowed himself to be wrong if it was the right thing to do. The tough part for him, I imagine, was that it was a rare occurrence for him to be wrong. He had instincts, passion, and a mind that deserves comparison with the great thinkers and achievers of the past.

Steve Jobs was definitely unique and his style cannot be replicated because it took all of his talent and intelligence to work in that one-of-a-kind style, and few, perhaps none, have the capability to pull it off. As Product Managers, we can’t all be Steve Jobs, but we can and should learn from the lessons he’s left behind for us, especially his famous quote: “Focus is about saying no.” This is less a lesson, though, and more a strict discipline that needs to be revisited with every decision a Product Manager makes.

I’m writing this on my iPad, which continues to amaze me every day. Thanks again Steve, for showing us that wild, “impossible” dreams can become reality. You just need to think different.

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