Leadership & Management

Guy Kawasaki: Lessons Learned from Steve Jobs

A venture capitalist shares the wisdom from the late Apple founder, including how getting it "wrong" can be right.

November 17, 2011

| by Michele Chandler


Guy Kawasaki, a tech venture capitalist and author, who worked for Apple in the 1980s and 1990s, said he learned plenty from Steve Jobs, the company’s late cofounder and CEO.

At the top of the list: ignore self-appointed experts bearing bad business news — a group including social media and computer technologists, journalists, and industry analysts.

Be very skeptical if one of them declares something “can’t be done, shouldn’t be done, isn’t necessary, or won’t work,” Kawasaki advised. If Apple and Jobs had listened to naysayers who doubted whether the graphics-focused computer line would ever catch on, he said, the company “wouldn’t be with us any longer.”

To punctuate his point, Kawasaki listed three powerful business leaders who got it very wrong. In 1943, IBM Chairman Thomas Watson declared there was a world market for only five computers, tops. Western Union concluded in 1876 that the telephone had “too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communications.” And Kenneth Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corp., sniffed in the late 1970s that there was “no reason why anyone would want a computer in their home.”

These incorrect forecasts show that while experts think they know it all, “they’re pretty much clueless,” Kawasaki said during his standing-room only, no-holds-barred Oct. 28 talk at Stanford GSB, sponsored by the student-led Stanford GSB Entrepreneur Club. “These ‘experts’ are typically people who criticize and analyze, but they don’t do. I would advise you that you’ve got to listen to them, but I’d also advise you not to believe them.”

Another lesson Kawasaki learned from Jobs is that design counts, and served as the hallmark of a groundbreaking line of products released during the past three decades, from the Macintosh personal computer to the iPod and iPad. In 1984 Jobs introduced the first Macintosh, which went on to become the first commercially successful personal computer to feature a mouse and reliance on graphics rather than text-only commands, according to Wikipedia.

“Many people are thinking it’s all about cost of goods sold, return on equity, or the return on the rate of return. Design counts, and it’s a very emotional thing,” Kawasaki said. “Don’t underestimate that.”

He urged the MBA students to resist asking customers what they need, just as he said Jobs never relied on focus groups or market research when developing new products, going with his gut instinct instead.


Design counts, and it's a very emotional thing. Don't underestimate that.
Guy Kawasaki

“If customers haven’t seen anything different, how can they describe something different?” he asked. “This is not to say you should ignore customers, but I will tell you that it is very difficult to get ideas for a revolution from customers. They will tell you how to fix what is out there already, but they cannot tell you how to get to the next curve. The real message I got from Steve is: the real action is by jumping curves, not by duking it out in the same curve and giving better sameness.”

Kawasaki said he wouldn’t emulate some of the things he learned from Jobs. He called the CEO, who died last month, a “brilliant and difficult” man who wouldn’t hesitate to stomp on people’s feelings.

“When I worked there, I lived in great fear of his temper. He would tell you in front of the rest of the division, ‘You’re a piece of shit, and your work is shit,’” Kawasaki said. “You know, that’s not exactly standard HR practice. But it was a really motivating force, and I can tell you it drove me to do great work. I don’t think I would be as tough on people, but maybe I would not have gotten such great results.”

Still, Kawasaki said, helping build Apple and working for Jobs were great experiences that “definitely changed my life.”

From 1983 to 1987, Kawasaki worked in the Macintosh division as an Apple evangelist, promoting Macintosh products to software and hardware developers. He left to start ACIUS, a Macintosh database company and went on to become a writer, speaker, and consultant.

In 1995 Kawasaki returned to Apple as an Apple Fellow responsible for maintaining and rejuvenating Macintosh sales. In 1997, he again left the company, this time to start Garage Technology Ventures, which has funded about 40 companies including financial services firm Motley Fool, Pandora internet radio, and job search site Simply Hired. He also is a cofounder of online news site Alltop.

A member of the board of directors of online firm FilmLoop, Kawasaki holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Stanford, along with an MBA from UCLA and an honorary degree from Babson College.

For media inquiries, visit the Newsroom.

Explore More