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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7 Comments so far

  1. Linda H. DiMario

    November 7, 2011

    It is always tempting and quite frankly irresistable to compare the private sector to the public sector but as we all know, it is truly apples and oranges. Steve Jobs literally “controlled” everything from idea incubation to point of sale. That kind of influence over one’s operating environment tends to breed a sense of certainty, confidence and even fearlessness. Not so in the public sector. Whereas Jobs could encourage and spawn risk-taking, reward failure and inspire innovation almost regardless of consequences, the public sector is often held hostage to cautious, fearful or outraged minority voices, risk-taking is calculated at best and absent at worst and innovation is encouraged only when the outcome can be guaranteed. The bold, fearless public leader is admired right up until he/she makes a choice that changes something another person or persons valued. Most EDO, community development and redevelopment leadership slog through a methodical and laborious process that is less than inspiring and more often gives birth to mediocrity rather than excellence. As long as the political process rewards caution and process over boldness and action, economic developoment will reflect those charcatersitics. And we all need to do better-not tomorrow, today!

  2. Bryan Collins

    November 7, 2011

    Steve Jobs would have cut out the wasted overhead, Derailed the 200m+ streetcar project, demanded someone manufacture or retro fit city busses with fuel cells and restructured the operation to be profitable as a city energy conversions income producing mechanism, then he would find the funds to buy rare earth minerals and build a foundry to manufacture levity pads utilizing already owned city property suited for manufacturing ( the bottoms) and started encapsulated secured property production of the worlds first real antigravity train with the prototype being the Cincinnati Street Car running Main St to Walnut to the Museum Cntr down to the stadium and back up Main st. with massive proprietary intellectual property rights encapsulization in place of course, wouldn’t want those pesky foreigners reverse engineering our goods now would we… rights are rights and belong to their rightful inventor/owners ehy ? from there, the sky is the limit…or, real focus could be placed upon the USA borders as a high speed mass transit fence…um, transit line… did I say that, na… Steves Jobs inspiration…


  3. Bryan Collins

    November 7, 2011

    It is so in all sectors, one has to be far more skilled than those wishing to remain off pages and one must be able to create the environment of unity as opposed to 50/50 battle lines or who what when where gets the ego boosts that serve no one but the self serving. Create the progressive environments that benefit all and the dust shall fall to earth while the benefit all can enjoy and utilize and prosper together. again, the only reasons it can not work in public sector is that the self serving are able to overpower the voices and needs of the mass. Simple clarity, no one can argue as it would then relate to the above. Ignorance is no longer bliss for as the mass fall so to then shall the few, then where will we be…~?~

  4. Jihad Tendolph Muhammad

    November 8, 2011

    I read some info and listen to him just recently on a local radio show where the host gave him high praise for innovative genius that has impacted the world. Based on this limited knowledge of him, I would say that he would identify verifiable skilled individuals and call them to a presentation of his community “economic” development ideas. I would like to think that he would allow for an analysis, review, input, evaluation and critique – all that good stuff – that makes for an optimum decision. Afterward, market, sell, market and sell.

  5. Dean Barber

    November 29, 2011

    If Steve Jobs, a brilliant man no doubt, would have made the mistake of getting into economic development, he would have gotten himself fired.

  6. George Harben

    December 1, 2011

    I do not think Mr. Jobs could really work for anyone. Look how much trouble he had with his various boards over the years.

  7. […] But what does a techie from Silicon Valley have to teach economic developers? The article “Canada, like Steve Jobs, should zero in on innovation” in the Globe and Mail layouts out two particular lessons for Canadian economic policy; firstly, we need to start investing in innovation rather than invention. Money for research and development has increased, but training and skills development around thinking differently need to be fostered. Secondly, policies that are unique must be considered. While best practices can be valuable, developing unique approaches and policies, although risky, can allow communities to lead the way in economic development. In this line of work, it’s worth asking “What would Steve Jobs Do?“. […]

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