Embrace multidisciplinary perspectives and focus on design are a few
This month marks the 10th anniversary of the passing of Steve Jobs, a tireless tech visionary, an extraordinary innovator, and the cofounder of Apple. When he died on 5 October 2011 at age 56, he left a lasting legacy.
Jobs's innovations made a profound impact. He redefined computing, enhancing the user experience, and created products and services loved by millions around the world. He reshaped the music industry with the iPod, the mobile phone industry with the iPhone, and the movie industry with Pixar Animation Studios. He also transformed the publishing industry with iBooks and media subscription services.
Jobs also redefined what a high-tech corporate campus should look like, according to a 2011 IEEE Spectrum article. One of the final products he pitched was Apple Park, the company's corporate campus in Cupertino, Calif. Jobs designed it to be a curved structure without a straight piece of glass. Construction on the four-story building, nicknamed the spaceship, was completed in 2017. It now can house 12,000 employees.
Jobs had amazing vision. He foresaw what the future of technology could—and should—be. And, crucially, he brought that vision to fruition.
In his tribute to Jobs, former U.S. President Barack Obama described him as "brave enough to think differently, bold enough to believe he could change the world, and talented enough to do it. He made the information revolution not only accessible but intuitive and fun."
Jobs was not an engineer, an IT professional, or even a college graduate. Still, he was able to make lasting contributions to the technology and business worlds.
Engineers, IT professionals, and business executives can learn valuable lessons by studying his career. Here are 10 that I've identified—strategies that can help a wide range of professionals excel.
Think differently and work persistently. Jobs encouraged others to think differently and creatively in conceiving new products and solving problems. He said, "When you first start off trying to solve a problem, the first solutions you come up with are very complex, and most people stop there. But if you keep going and live with the problem and peel more layers of the onion off, you can oftentimes arrive at some very elegant and simple solutions. Most people just don't put in the time or energy to get there."
Anticipate and create the need. Jobs had an uncanny ability to foresee and define trends in computers and consumer electronics. "A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them," he said. "We shouldn't overly rely on focus groups. Sometimes the most innovative of products contradict what the end users envision." He showed people what they need, not just what they asked for.
Jobs could anticipate what we wanted before we even knew we wanted it, creating a market for a product where none had previously existed. And he led the creation and marketing of irresistible products including the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, which spurred several companies to follow suit with similar products and marketing strategies.
Steve Jobs introducing the new iphone at Macworld in 2007 in San FranciscoMedia News Group/Getty Images
Create a vision and innovate. By staying focused on new ideas that no other company was working on, Jobs was able to create a vision, develop novel products within that vision, and then do it again and again. On its 25 October 2005 cover, Time magazine hailed Jobs as "the man who always seems to know what's next." His legacy extends beyond the technology and computing worlds into other businesses.
Focus on design. Good design is the hallmark of most Apple products. The company's design process honors and addresses users' needs—both expressed and perceived. Jobs showed that being the first to launch a new product is less important than being the first to launch a product that embraces good design and is of value to its users. The iPod, for example, came four years after the first MP3 players on the market, but it quickly surpassed them when it debuted. The iPod was the first user-friendly and innovative means of accessing music on the go. Its physical design, the minimalist layout, the screen with playlists, and the easy-access buttons made it successful, and the iTunes store made it easier for people to discover and buy music and organize it into personal playlists.
Engineer software and hardware together. Most tech companies specialized in either hardware or software, but Jobs pursued both. Apple built systems encompassing hardware and software, closely aligning the device and its operating environment to optimize system performance. Apple built a mobile phone running its operating system and created a store where users could download a wide variety of apps and games that run on it, thus embracing vertical integration. Jobs led Apple in building technological systems, not simply products, and that distinct strategy made Apple Apple.
Get your priorities straight. Jobs excelled at choosing the right project at the right time and deciding its features. It's a skill that many professionals lack. Saying "No" matters. It's only by saying "No" that you can concentrate on the things that are really important. On making choices, Jobs said, "I'm as proud of what we don't do as I am of what we do."
Embrace multidisciplinary perspectives. Apple's tech products' success and popularity are attributed, in part, to their artistic and humanistic flavor. With their sleek looks and intuitive features, they embed aspects of the arts and humanities. As Jobs had emphasized, "Technology alone is not enough. It is technology married with the liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing." He provided in his products a compelling user experience in ways not previously envisioned. Start with the customer experience and work back toward technology, he advised.
Pay attention to details and strive for perfection. To get things right, Jobs paid attention to every detail—and from multiple angles. He achieved the best products, best design, best quality, and best delivery. Attention to detail is the ability to achieve thoroughness and accuracy when accomplishing a task. Being detail-oriented is essential to delivering quality work and reducing errors. Jobs's genuine passion for detail is what made his company's products stand out.
Keep improving. Users want to be delighted with new offerings that further enhance their product experience. Apple constantly developed follow-up versions designed to improve the user experience while introducing new products. Developers and business executives should always be considering potential improvements to their products and services.
Master your communication. You might have a novel idea, but if you can't get people excited about it, you can't sell it and move your idea forward. You need to tell a compelling story or make a convincing, realistic case. Jobs was a captivating communicator and a great corporate storyteller.
His Macworld keynotes—known as Stevenotes—were fascinating. He showed upfront the benefits, features, and end-user experiences his products and services offered—not just boring specifications. To make a persuasive presentation, he would deliver a story or a statement that excited the audience; pose a problem or a question that had to be solved or answered; offer a solution to the problem he raised; describe benefits for adopting the course of action he proposed; and state a call to action ("Now go out and buy").
People have criticized Jobs's personal traits. But, as G. Pascal Zachary wrote in a 2011 IEEE Spectrum article, "Despite his infamous bad temper, his impatience, and his penchant for tantrums, Jobs was the ultimate human-centered technologist—even while he was the ultimate digital autocrat."
To learn more about Jobs's strategy, passion, and leadership, view this slideshow and listen to his inspiring 2005 commencement address at Stanford University. He told three stories about connecting the dots, love and loss, and death.
As Tim Cook, the current CEO of Apple, wrote to his staff recently, Jobs "challenged us to see the world not for what it was but for what it could be. [He] was a singular figure, but he taught us all how to soar."
Adopting Jobs's lessons in our work can help us create a lasting legacy that we and others can be proud of.
Steve Jobs' 10 Most Innovative Creations
How Steve Jobs Changed the World
15 Little-known facts about Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs and the Apple Story
"iGenius How Steve Jobs Changed The World"
Jobs's valuable general advice, delivered in that 2005 Stanford speech:
"You've got to find what you love. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking.
"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And, most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition."
Apple focuses strongly on creating what Ricardo Saltz Gulko would call, ‘Simplified Experiences’. In fact, one of their company values is literally, ‘We believe in the simple, not the complex’. Check out this article to know more. https://bit.ly/3mMpZNn
The inventor told us how he endured decades of opposition
The denunciations were sometimes extreme.
“Fuzzy theory is wrong, wrong, and pernicious,” said William Kahan, a highly regarded professor of computer sciences and mathematics at the University of California at Berkeley in 1975. “The danger of fuzzy theory is that it will encourage the sort of imprecise thinking that has brought us so much trouble.”
Another berated the theory’s scientific laxity. “No doubt professor Zadeh’s enthusiasm for fuzziness has been reinforced by the prevailing political climate in the United States—one of unprecedented permissiveness,” said R. E. Kalman in 1972, who is now a professor at Florida State University in Tallahassee. “Fuzzification is a kind of scientific permissiveness, it tends to result in socially appealing slogans unaccompanied by the discipline of hard scientific work.”
This article was first published as “Lotfi A. Zadeh.” It appeared in the June 1995 issue of IEEE Spectrum. A PDF version is available on IEEE Xplore. The photographs appeared in the original print version.
A multitude of other outspoken critics also disputed the theory of fuzzy logic, developed by Lotfi A. Zadeh in the mid-1960s. Some 20 years were to pass before the theory became widely accepted—capped by this year’s award of the IEEE Medal of Honor to Zadeh “for pioneering development of fuzzy logic and its many diverse applications.” Even today some critics remain. But Zadeh never wavered. He had found himself alone in his scientific opinions on several earlier occasions.
“There is a picture of me in my study, taken when I was a student at the University of Tehran,” Zadeh told IEEE Spectrum. “I sit at a table, and above the table is a sign in Russian. ODIN, which means ‘alone.’ It was a proclamation of my independence.”
Perhaps the confidence Zadeh had in his judgment despite some tough opposition, and his willingness to stand apart from the crowd, originated in a childhood of privilege. He was born in 1921 in Azerbaijan, then part of the Soviet Union, and moved to Iran at age 10. His parents—his father a businessman and newspaper correspondent, his mother a doctor—were comfortably well off. As a child, Zadeh was surrounded by governesses and tutors, while as a young adult, he had a personal servant.
His career goal, for as long as he can remember, was to be an engineering professor. He never considered going into industry, he said, because money was no problem. Rather, he thought of scientific and engineering research as a type of religion, practiced at universities.
Zadeh received an electrical engineering degree from the University of Tehran in 1942. But instead of taking the comfortable route—becoming a professor in Iran—he emigrated to the United States.
“I could have stayed in Iran and become rich, but I felt that I could not do real scientific work there,” he told Spectrum. “Research in Iran was nonexistent.”
Lotfi A. Zadeh
Date of Birth
Feb. 4, 1921
Wife, Fay; children, Stella and Norman
BSEE, University of Tehran, 1942; MSEE, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1946; PhD, Columbia University, 1949
Design and analysis of defense systems, International Electronics Corp., New York City, summer of 1944
One U.S. patent, two Iranian patents.
“I made a conscious decision to stop reading fiction at age 15, when I was a voracious reader. I now read scientific books and other nonfiction only.”
Four newspapers daily (The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, The Wall St. Journal or San Jose Mercury News), Business Week, The Economist
Favorite kind of music
Classical and electronic
Sergey Prokofiev, Dimitry Shostakovich
A Hewlett-Packard workstation, which is used “only to print my e-mail; I dictate all my answers to my secretary.”
Favorite television show
Least favorite food
Any kind of shellfish
Three Cs Café, an inexpensive crêperie in Berkeley, Calif.
“No matter what you are told, take it as a compliment.”
Portrait photography (has photographed U.S. Presidents Richard Nixon and Harry Truman, as well as other notables), high-fidelity audio, garage sales
Nissan Quest Minivan
English, Russian, Iranian, French
Two million miles in past 10 years on American and United Airlines alone, uncounted mileage on other airlines
Key organizational memberships
The IEEE, Association for Computing Machinery, International Fuzzy Systems Association, American Association for Artificial Intelligence
The IEEE Medal of Honor (1995) and the Japan Honda Prize (1989)
After graduation, Zadeh had a business association with the US. Army Persian Gulf Command. That enabled him to be financially independent when he came to the United States to enroll in graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge. “MIT didn’t have many graduate students at the time,” Zadeh recalled, “so it was fairly easy to get in, even though the University of Teheran had no track record.”
“No doubt professor Zadeh’s enthusiasm for fuzziness has been reinforced by the prevailing political climate in the United States—one of unprecedented permissiveness," said R. E. Kalman in 1972
MIT, it turned out, was an easy ride after the demanding course work Zadeh had faced in Tehran.
His choice of subject for his master’s thesis, though, marked one of the first times he would sail against the prevailing technical winds. He chose to study helical antennas, a subject deemed unreasonable by the professor who had taught him antenna theory. Undaunted, Zadeh found another professor to supervise his work.
“I felt that my judgment was correct, and the judgment of people who supposedly knew much more about the subject than I did was not correct,” Zadeh said. “This was one of many such situations. Helical antennas came into wide use in the ‘40s and OS, and my judgment was vindicated.”
By the time Zadeh received his master’s degree in 1946, his parents had moved from Tehran to New York City. So instead of continuing at MIT, he searched out a post as an instructor at New York City’s Columbia University and began his Ph.D. studies there. His thesis on the frequency analysis of time-varying networks considered ways of analyzing systems that change in time.
“It was not a breakthrough,” he recalled, “but it did make an impact and opened a certain direction in its field.”
What he views as his first technical breakthrough came in 1950, when, as an assistant professor at Columbia, he coauthored a paper with his doctoral thesis advisor, John R. Ragazzini, on “An extension of Wiener’s theory of prediction.” This analysis of prediction of time series is often cited as an early classic in its field. This thesis introduced the use of a finite, rather than an infinite, preceding time interval of observation for subsequent smoothing and prediction in the presence of multiple signals and noises. This, and Zadeh’s other work while he was at Columbia, made him a well-known figure in the analysis of analog systems.
As Zadeh was pretty much entrenched at Columbia, he surprised his colleagues when he packed up in 1959 and moved to the University of California at Berkeley.
“I had not been looking for another position,” Zadeh said, “so the offer from Berkeley was unexpected.’’ It came from electrical engineering department chairman John Whinnery, who called him at home over the weekend and offered him a position. “If my line had been busy, I believe l would still be at Columbia,” Zadeh told Spectrum.
Whinnery recalls it slightly differently. He had heard from a colleague that Zadeh had been toying with the idea of leaving Columbia. Minutes later, Whinnery picked up the phone and called him, arranged to meet him in New York City for dinner, and soon afterward hired him. Berkeley was then growing rapidly, and Whinnery was on the lookout for young scholars who were considered brilliant in their fields. Zadeh fit the bill.
For Zadeh, moving to Berkeley was a simple decision to make: “I was happy at Columbia, but the job was too soft. It was a comfortable, undemanding environment; I was not challenged internally. I realized that at Berkeley my life would not be anywhere near as comfortable, but I felt that it would be good for me to be challenged.” Zadeh has never regretted the decision. To this day he remains at Berkeley, although by now as professor emeritus.
A number of departmental colleagues felt that the trend toward computer science was a fad.
At Berkeley, Zadeh initially continued his work in linear, nonlinear, and finite state systems analysis. But before long he became convinced that digital systems would grow in importance. Appointed as chairman of the electrical engineering department, he decided to act on that conviction, and immediately set about strengthening the role of computer science in the department’s curriculum. He also lobbied the electrical engineering community nationwide to recognize the importance of computer science.
Once again, he found himself fighting conventional wisdom. A number of departmental colleagues felt that the trend toward computer science was a fad, and that computer science should not be assigned a high departmental priority. ‘They accused me of being an Yves St. Laurent,” Zadeh recalled, “a follower of fads.” Elsewhere, professors in the mathematics department, along with the head of the computer center, were lobbying to set up their own computer science department.
Zadeh fought this battle as he has fought others, with polite persistence, his former chairman recollected. “We had many differences of opinion when he was chairman,” Whinnery said. “When he couldn’t convince people, he would get upset, but [even now] you can only tell this by the expression on his face. He doesn’t yell or scream. Then he goes ahead and does what he was going to do anyway. And mostly he’s been right, particularly about the importance of computers in electrical engineering.”
Said Earl Cox, chief executive officer of the Metus Systems Group, Chappaqua, N.Y., who has known Zadeh since the ’70s: “I’ve never seen him anger anybody, even though he prides himself in going his own way, in thinking his own thoughts.” (Zadeh is also known for encouraging others to be independent. He insists his graduate students publish in their own name, noted former student Chin L. Chang, who is now president of Nicesoft Corp., Austin, Texas. That practice goes against custom.)
Zadeh finally got his way in 1967: the name of the department was changed to electrical engineering and computer science (EECS). A separate computer science department was also established in Berkeley’s College of Letters, but after a few years it folded and became absorbed into EECS.
While he was focusing on systems analysis, in the early 1960s, Zadeh began to feel that traditional systems analysis techniques were too precise for real-world problems. In a paper written in 1961, he mentioned that a new technique was needed, a “fuzzy” kind of mathematics. At the time, though, he had no clear idea how this would work.
That idea came in July 1964. Zadeh was in New York City visiting his parents and planned to leave soon for Southern California, where he would spend several weeks at Rand Corp working on pattern recognition problems. With this upcoming work on his mind, his thoughts often turned to the use of imprecise categories for classification.
“One night in New York,” Zadeh recalled, “I had a dinner engagement with some friends It was canceled, and I spent the evening by myself in my parents’ apartment 1 remember distinctly that the idea occurred to me then to introduce the concept of grade of membership [concepts that became the backbone of fuzzy set theory]. So it is quite possible that if that dinner engagement had not been canceled, the idea would not have occurred to me.”
Fuzzy technology, Zadeh explained, is a means of computing with words—bigger, smaller, taller, shorter. For example, small can be multiplied by a few and added to large, or colder can be added to warmer to get something in between.
Zadeh published his first fuzzy paper in 1965, convinced that he was onto something important, but wrote only sparingly on the topic until after he left Berkeley’s electrical engineering department chairmanship in 1968. Since then, fuzzy sets have been his full-time occupation.
Once the issue of classification had been solved, Zadeh could develop the theory of fuzzy sets quickly. Two weeks later he had a fairly fleshed-out group of concepts to present to his collaborator at Rand, Richard Bellman. “His response was enthusiastic,” Zadeh said, “and that was a source of encouragement to me-though had he been very critical, I wouldn’t have changed my mind.”
Since he was Berkeley’s electrical engineering department chairman at the time and engaged in his struggle over the place of computer science at the university, Zadeh had little time to work on his new theory of fuzzy sets. He published his first paper in 1965, convinced that he was onto something important, but wrote only sparingly on the topic until after he left the department chairmanship in 1968. Since then, fuzzy sets have been his full-time occupation.
“I continue to be an active player,” he said. “I am not merely an elder statesman who rests on his laurels. I give many talks, and this puts me under pressure. I must constantly think of new ideas to talk about and keep up with what others are doing.”
Acceptance of fuzzy set theory by the technical community was slow in coming. Part of the problem was the name—“fuzzy” is hardly proper terminology. And Zadeh knew it.
“I was cognizant of the fact that it would be controversial, but I could not think of any other, respectable term to describe what I had in mind, which was classes that do not have sharp boundaries, like clouds,” he said. “So I decided to do what I thought was right, regardless of how it might be perceived. And I’ve never regretted the name. I think it is better to be visible and provocative than to be bland.”
And, as expected, fuzzy theory did cause controversy. Some people rejected it outright because of the name, without knowing the content. Others rejected it because of the theory’s focus on imprecision.
“I’ve never regretted the name. I think it is better to be visible and provocative than to be bland.”
In the late 1960s, it even garnered the passing attention of Congress as a prime example of the waste of government funds (much of Zadeh’s research was being funded by the National Science Foundation). Former Senator William Proxmire (D-Wis.), the force behind the Golden Fleece Awards that honored such government boondoggles as $600 toilet seats, sent a letter to the foundation suggesting that such “fuzzy” garbage they were supporting should earn a Golden Fleece nomination. A flurry of correspondence from Zadeh and the foundation emerged in defense of the work.
Zadeh remembers the challenge of developing his theories “in the face of opposition, even hostility. Someone with a thinner skin would have been traumatized,” he said.
And Cox remarked, “He meets people who have written some really nasty things, and he’s nice to them.”
But, observed Berkeley’s Whinnery, “I do think this lack of acceptance bothered him, although he now describes it with some humor.”
Eventually, fuzzy theory was taken seriously—by the Japanese.
Eventually, fuzzy theory was taken seriously—by the Japanese. And their implementations of it surprised even Zadeh.
He at first had expected fuzzy sets to apply to fields in which conventional analytic techniques had been ineffectual, for work outside of the hard sciences, for work in philosophy, psychology, linguistics, biology, and so on. He also thought that the theory might apply to control systems, in engine control, for example. But he never expected it to be used in consumer products, which today is perhaps its biggest application, thanks to Japanese electronics companies.
Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. was the first to apply fuzzy theory to a consumer product, a shower head that controlled water temperature, in 1987. Now numerous Japanese consumer products—dishwashers, washing machines, air conditioners, microwave ovens, cameras, camcorders, television sets, copiers, and even automobiles—quietly apply fuzzy technology.
These products make use of fuzzy logic combined with sensors to simplify control. For example, cameras have several focusing spots and use fuzzy’s IF-THEN rules to calculate the optimal focus; camcorders use fuzzy logic for image stabilization; and washing machines use sensors to detect how dirty the water is and how quickly it is clearing to determine the length of wash cycles.
The introduction of fuzzy products by the Japanese riveted press attention on this apparently “new” technology (some two decades after Zadeh had developed the theory). Growing acknowledgment of the theory by his colleagues followed, although some still reject it.
Acceptance, colleagues say, has somewhat changed Zadeh. “Since fuzzy logic has turned into something with so much panache, and he has finally come into his own after being ignored for so many years, I think Lotfi has come out of his shell,” said Cox.
“Had I not launched that theory, I would fall into the same category as many professors—be reasonably well known… but not have made a long-lasting impact.”
To date, hundreds of books have been published on the topic, and some 15 000 technical papers have been written (most, it seems, piled around his office, where stacks of papers leave only a narrow path from the door to his desk). Zadeh is now known as the Father of Fuzzy.
“Had I not launched that theory,” said Zadeh, “I would fall into the same category as many professors—be reasonably well known, have attained a certain level of recognition, and written some books and papers, but not have made a long-lasting impact. So I consider myself to have been lucky that this thing came about.”
“The important criterion of your impact is: has what you have done generated a following? With fuzzy sets, I can definitely say, ‘Yes.’”
Editor’s note: Lotfi Zadeh died in 2017 at the age of 96.