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Oct. 7, 2011, 12:02 a.m. EDT

12 lessons for us all from the life of Steve Jobs

Commentary: What Apple co-founder’s achievements tell the rest of us

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By Brett Arends, MarketWatch

BOSTON (MarketWatch) — Are there any life lessons for the rest of us from the career, and legacy, of Steve Jobs?

The death of the Apple /zigman2/quotes/202934861/composite AAPL +1.48%  co-founder has dominated the news from Cupertino, Calif., to Kuala Lumpur. Many are focusing on the way his products and services changed our world. Others are talking about Jobs, the man.

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But this was the most successful business leader of his era, and one of the greats. Few have achieved so much, so quickly, and so publicly. It got me thinking: What are the lessons we can all take away? What do his extraordinary achievements tell the rest of us?

Here are 12 lessons from the life of Jobs:

1. Yes, you can make a difference

Anyone trying to achieve real change — in life, in a company or in any organization — probably feels the urge to give up half a dozen times a day. The naysayers and seat polishers will do everything to slow you down. No one is suggesting that what Apple achieved was the result of Jobs alone, but his career is proof of just how much one individual can change things.

2. You need a vision

It’s not enough to conduct opinion polls and customer surveys, and rely on consultants’ projections. Those are all based on the conventional wisdom and the world as it is today. Jobs imagined things — most obviously the iPod, and the iTunes services — that didn’t yet exist and for which the market was uncertain. While his competitors were still building the products of yesterday, he was imagining, and building, those of tomorrow.

3. It’s not about you

It’s horrifying how many business decisions are still made on the assumption that “well, we have to do something with the XYZ division, so let’s give them this project” or “Buggins has seniority, so he’s in charge.” Do you think the customer cares about Buggins or XYZ? Jobs built Apple into a streamlined operation, focused on the output, nothing else.

4. Focus, focus, focus

Hard to believe, but mediocre managers everywhere like to keep their staff “busy” because they think that’s “productive.” It isn’t. (Ask them what their top priority is, and they’ll name two things. Or four. Or 16.) Apple sure was “busy, busy, busy” when Jobs arrived. And it was going bust. One of the first things he did was ax about 90% of the company’s activities and focus — first on the iMac, then on the iPod.

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