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What I Learned From Steve Jobs



Three years Steve Jobs and his imaginative leadership left this earth.

I never met Steve Jobs but I was privileged enough to work in an Apple Retail store for two and a half years while he was leading Apple. I started just after the launch of the first iPhone and left after the launch of the iPad. These were exciting years for Apple and for us as employees.

Those years at Apple Retail were more transformative for my life and leadership than my years at seminary.

Here are just a few of the lessons I learned from my time at Apple Retail:

  • Focus on a few things and do them well
  • Give fearless feedback often
  • Enrich lives, don’t just sell products
  • Infuse values into everything that is done and refer to them often
  • Hire for fit on the team, not for qualifications or knowledge

I still remember that day three years ago when I heard that Steve had passed away. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I wanted to go to the Apple Store where I used to work and mourn with my co-workers.

We mourn the passing of those whose life and actions impact our lives the most.

Thank you Steve for inspiring and challenging me to think different.


Families, Technology and the Church


Recent studies from the Barna Group show that technology is having a profound impact on family life. David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, writes, “Technology is shaping family interactions in unprecedented ways, but we seem to lack a strategic commitment to the stewardship of technology. The Christian community needs a better, more holistic understanding of how to manage existing and coming technological advances. Parents, tweens and teens need more coaching and input in order to face the countless choices they make regarding how technology affects their attention, interests, talents and resources.”  Read the rest of this entry

What the Church Can Learn from Apple: Less is More

I remember the first time Hillary and I purchased an iMac and unpacked it in our home office.  It felt so weird to set the monitor on the desk and realize that we didn’t have to plug multiple cords into a tower below the desk.  Compared to our old Dell desktop, this new iMac was a breeze to setup and get going.  I loved walking people to the iMac table at the Apple Store and seeing their amazement that there wasn’t a tower below the table.  Everything was inside the monitor!

Apple has been driven by the minimalist principle that “less is more.”  Ever since Steve Jobs returned to Apple, he and product designer Jonathan Ive have been driven to bring a simplicity and easy of use to Apple products.  Read more in detail about Jonathan Ive here.  This simplicity is apparent in Apple Retail Stores and the minimalist nature of the wooden tables, even down to the small details such as the product descriptions.  On Apple’s website it is clear that there are five main Apple products:  Mac, iPod, iPhone, iPad and iTunes.  Even these products interact with each other in a very simple manner.  Steve Jobs doesn’t even want a cashier sign in the store because it distracts from the other elements in the store.

Take a look at your church’s website and see if you can pick out what the main “products” of the church.  What is your church committed to?  Take a look at the church calendar.  How many events take place on a weekly basis?  I think that too often we think that the busier we are as a church, the more productive we are.  We have so many programs and outreach opportunities that we spread ourselves too thin.  Jason Fried and David Heinemeier write in their book Rework, “Cut your ambition in half. Lots of things get better as they get shorter. Getting to great starts by cutting out stuff that’s merely good.”

In the church we need to ask some important questions about each of our programs.  Here are a few:

1.  What is the purpose of this program/group?

2.  What would happen if we cut this program/group?

3.  Are we keeping it going because it meets a need or just because we have always done it this way?

4.  How does this program/group fit into the greater mission of the church?

5.  Does this program/group overlap with another program/group?  How can we merge these groups and make them more effective together?

What the Church Can Learn from Apple: Enriching Lives

To some computers and technology seem cold and non-relational.  One of the first questions I would ask people who were purchasing a new computer was, “What did you use your computer for in the past?”  From PC users I would get answers like, “Just for email and writing documents.”  I just smiled knowing that if I could help them decide on a buying a Mac, their lives would change.  Some of you PC users are smirking now but honestly I saw people’s lives being changed as a result of buying a Mac.  We had an older gentlemen who built a website for his bowling team.  Another wrote a book on his World War II experiences all on a Mac with Pages.  Computers can change people’s lives.

Apple Retail is driven by their credo which is “to enrich lives.”  We used this statement to motivate team members who became discouraged and felt like they were just selling computers.  Everything we did revolved around this statement of enriching lives.  It helped us realize that we were part of something bigger than just selling the newest tech product.  The fact that I was enriching lives kept me working in a retail job for two and half years.  I loved talking to a Special Forces member about to be deployed to some exotic location and selling him a Macbook knowing that he could Skype with his family at home.  I got teary eyed as I saw a father hug his son as they walked out of the store with a new Macbook Pro for college.

In a church, it is so easy to focus on a lack of tithing and shrinking budgets, while forgetting what a church is all about.  What is the vision of your church?  If someone sat in on your church board meeting, what would be their sense of what motivates you to keep going?  Is it money, new buildings or the number of people in the pews?  It is essential that a church know what their credo or vision is.  How many of your church members and employees can articulate the vision?  Is it memorable and simple?

I think many churches work hard to come up with a vision statement that makes them feel good and then they just put it on their letterhead.  It is never infused in the life of the church.  Stories aren’t told of how lives are being changed as a result of the vision and credo.  Quickly the focus goes back to getting people in the pews so the bills can be paid.  These are the kind of places where Jesus would have stormed into and started chucking tables and pews.

One thing we can learn from Apple is to come up with a dynamic vision of why we exist and then to infuse it into everything that is done.  Tell stories of lives that are changed as a result of the vision of the church.  Allow the vision of the church to come from the grassroots level instead of some outside church consultant that is paid the big bucks to tell you what to do.  This will motivate your members to change the world instead of just focusing on a lack of tithing or a shrinking budget.  It saddens me that a computer company can change lives better than a church can.

“What the Church Can Learn from Apple” Series

For two and a half years I worked in Apple Retail and from the very beginning, I realized there were strategies and values that Apple uses that could inform the Church.  Starting tomorrow, I will blog about some of the specific strategies in marketing and culture that could  help the Church in its mission.  Fundamental to this series is the idea that Truth can be found in a number of different places and is not just limited to the Bible.