What Would Steve Jobs Do?

I recently read a great piece about Steve Jobs on ChiefExecutive.net. The article was titled ‘The Real Lessons From Steve Job’s Career”. While we’ll never know for certain how Steve Jobs would apply those lessons to economic development, I decided to try my hand at interpreting the lessons in that context.

How To Win The Economic Development Game

Based on Lessons From Steve Jobs


  • Relentlessly pursue bold ideas. Community leaders must have the patience, courage, and foresight to identify and advocate breakout ideas. Incremental improvement in the business climate is good, but discontinuous economic growth comes from execution of bold moves.
  • The customer rules. Economic development organizations need to identify and cultivate the careers of high potential professionals who understand the business community in ways that allow for creating genuine value-add programs that help businesses succeed.
  • Ego serves the organization. Public and private sector leaders can have big egos, but their efforts need to serve the community in ways that makes it more competitive for capital investment.
  • Don’t confuse activity with results. Public and private sector leaders need to leverage competitive drive to create momentum. But, they are never distracted from achieving the 10 – 15 year economic growth goals of the community.
  • The 3 R’s – The right people are in the right jobs, and the right conditions for success have been created. This means using private sector partner expertise to supplement public sector personnel effort. The talent of the community needs to be harnessed, and applied, to accomplish goals efficiently and effectively.
  • Truth-telling. Don’t tolerate political spin. Expect and reward objectivity and proactive problem solving behavior.
  • Inspirational communication. Provide frequent communication on achieving your community’s strategic goals. Remind everybody involved on the importance and economic benefits of success.


  • Prizing boldness to a fault. Don’t push ideas at the expense of relationships with key stakeholders. And don’t allow unnecessary political problems within or outside of the economic development organization.
  • Misreading the community. Every community has a local culture. Change needs to be appropriately paced and citizens need to be led through the transition. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Prepare citizens appropriately and introduce innovative change when your community is ready to embrace it as positive.
  • When ego doesn’t serve the organization. People who act like the 800-pound gorilla or need to overtly demonstrate they are the most intelligent in the room, can be de-motivating for everybody involved. As a leader, you need to proactively correct this behavior or remove the offender from the team in order to move forward.
  • Excessive drive for results. People will feel trampled, unnecessarily stressed, pushed beyond what is reasonable, and/or devalued. Be particularly concerned about burning out your top performers in the relentless pursuit of results. Economic development is about people. People need to be treated as people and not simply disposable cogs in the wheel of economic progress.
  • The 1 R – Getting the people right, but failing to assimilate them well or support them fully. You can’t expect people to solve complex organizational r political challenges that require senior leader intervention. It is unfair, demoralizing and non-productive.
  • Destructive truth telling. Excessive negative feedback gets personal. Avoid a ‘glass half-empty paradigm’. Focus on celebrating what has been and working in what can be accomplished rather than stating the obvious of how hard the journey is. As the saying goes, ‘if it was easy it wouldn’t be called work’.
  • Un-inspirational communication. Messages that are diminished because of hyperbole, grand-standing, and/or failing to help people see their role in achieving the community’s objectives leaves people disenfranchised and lost. One of the things I personally believe is when given the chance to inform or inspire, always choose inspire. In any given day, enough people speak to your head, few people take the time to speak to your heart.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Does your community have bold development plans you are working to create discontinuous economic growth? How well is the leadership of your private and public sector working together? Is your organization caught in a ‘glass half empty’ paradigm? Share your thoughts/experience by commenting on this post.

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