Lessons from Steve Jobs

My wife, Karen, and I have a mixed marriage. She’s a Mac. I’m a PC. Some might argue that I even fit the PC character in the now famous Apple commercials comparing Apple products to Microsoft products. I’ve always respected Apple products, but have not been an Apple fan myself.Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs

My first purchase of an Apple product was the iPhone 3G, and I have enjoyed using it very much.

With the passing of Steve Jobs on October 5, there has been a lot written about his lasting legacy.

Karen purchased the authorized biography as soon as it was available. She finished it quickly and asked me to read it, which I did. I enjoyed it as it gave me a better understanding of the complexity, creativity, and obsessiveness of Jobs.

I think there are some lessons the insurance industry can learn from how Steve Jobs operated. Here are some thoughts on what the insurance industry should not emulate:

Don’t hide development.

Jobs, and thus Apple, was notorious for how secretive they were. Every product was built in isolation with press rumors speculating on what Apple had under development and when they would announce it. There are downsides to being this secretive. Some advantages of communicating early and often in product development are: leveraging feedback early in the development process, building a reputation and community, and building relationships with potential partners during the development process.

Release early and often.

The expectation was that when Jobs stood in front of a crowd to announce a new product, it would be truly amazing, groundbreaking, revolutionary and life changing. And I have to admit several products were all of these things. But if you’re not embarrassed by the first release of a product (what you create), you waited too long. I use the term “product” here to include anything an agency or an insurance company might create: a newly updated website, a video explaining coverage, or a Facebook ad. You aren’t Steve Jobs or Jonathan Ive, so it’s extremely unlikely you’ll predict as accurately as they did what needs to be created.

Don’t be closed.

Apple products are notoriously closed. For the first year after the original iPhone was released, the only apps you could get were those provided by Apple. Once Apple opened the Application Programming Interface (API) to the iPhone, developers started creating hundreds of thousands of programs. While the iPhone is a great device, the apps are what make it work as well as it does.

Development of open APIs should be at the top of the list of every vendor that has a product for insurance agencies as well as every insurance company. Data, and access to that data by anyone who has permission, is at the heart of creating a frictionless environment where all parties in the insurance environment can prosper. Third-party developers can add value to another vendor’s application. A good example of this is the Salesforce.com application platform. When they opened their platform by using an API, multiple third-party vendors created add-on services that made the Salesforce.com platform much more attractive.

There’s a lot the insurance industry can learn from Steve Jobs’ passion for excellence. Just as important is learning from what he didn’t do as well.

Steve Anderson provides information to insurance agents about how they can use technology to increase revenue and/or reduce expenses. He speaks professionally to hundreds of agents each year on the future of technology, the social web, and how insurance agencies can establish their Internet presence.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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