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Seven innovation secrets of Steve Jobs

Editor’s Note: The following article is reprinted from CIO.com. Visit CIO’s Macs in the Enterprise page.

In 1972, Steve Jobs left his Silicon Valley home and headed north to a small liberal arts school, Reed College, in Portland, Ore., only to drop out after one semester. Like many teenagers, the 17-year-old Jobs lacked direction.

“I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out,” Jobs said later. “Here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out okay.”

The courage to leave school—to “follow your heart”—is the first of seven principles outlined by Carmine Gallo in his new book, The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs (McGraw-Hill, October 2010). Gallo, a communications pro, is the author of the best-seller The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs. (See CIO.com’s Q&A.)

Gallo’s new book, however, takes him out of his core marketing expertise and into new ground where clichés help him define something as elusive as innovation. No doubt parents everywhere who fork out thousands for their kid’s college education are shuddering over the first principle.

Gallo revels in the image of Jobs-as-superhero, which somewhat undermines serious analysis of the iconic man’s ability to deliver not what people want but what they will want. Many of Gallo’s other six principles are just as simplistic, such as put a dent in the universe, say no to 1,000 things, and create insanely great experiences. (See below for the list of principles.)

It’s not all bad. Gallo comes closest to his mission in his third principle, kick-start your brain, which, like many chapters covering each principle, is riddled with quotes from Jobs: “Part of what made the Macintosh great was that the people working on it were musicians, and poets, and artists, and zoologists, and historians who also happened to be the best computer scientists in the world.”

One of the recurring themes in The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs is the ability to think differently and openly and constantly question the status quo. In order to do this, one must have enough and varied life experiences—both good and bad—to draw from, according to Gallo.

In the chapter about kick-starting your brain, Gallo cites a Harvard study that found that creative thinking requires the ability to connect vastly different experiences in order to arrive at something wholly new. For instance, Jobs sat in on a calligraphy class at Reed College, and Gallo shows how Jobs would later connect this experience with technology design.

Among not-so-savory experiences that, um, kick-start your brain is Jobs’ use of drugs. In John Markoff’s book, What the Doormouse Said, Jobs told Markoff that “taking LSD was one of the two or three most important things he had done in his life.” Jobs intimated a connection that’s eerily similar to the one with calligraphy: the trippy graphics combined with music in early iTunes players reminded him of his psychedelic experiences. (Tech visionaries have a long history with LSD, writes CIO.com editor Meridith Levinson.)

Here, Gallo writes in his chapter about kick-starting your brain that it’s reasonable to assume Jobs meditated with the aid of some “herbs.” But that’s about as dark as Gallo is willing to go in his analysis of Jobs’ ability to innovate.

More glaringly, Gallo ignores the culture of paranoia that engulfs Apple, as well as Jobs’ fiery temper. Apparently, these aren’t secrets to innovation. (On the other hand, maybe they are?)

Gallo does a fine job of researching and citing examples of innovation throughout history, not just at Apple or from Jobs or even in technology, in order to back up his innovation principles. From John F. Kennedy’s march to the moon to the Renaissance period to Cold Stone Creamery’s unique spin on ice cream, Gallo points out time and again that innovation often boils down to a simple, creative idea.

While Gallo contends that anyone can take advantage of these principles and find “breakthrough success” on a small scale, say, a college graduate in his first job interview or a 20-year veteran in an industry undergoing fundamental change, universe-denting innovation isn’t for everyone.

In the book’s last chapter, entitled “One More Thing” (a nod to Jobs’ famous phrase used during major Apple events), Gallo says most individuals lack Jobs-ian courage. “Innovation sits in a lonely place because very, very few people have the courage to pitch radically new ideas and the self-confidence to stick to their convictions,” Gallo writes, adding, “which is why so few can or will be able to innovate on a grand scale the way Steve Jobs does.”

In other words, stay in school.

Seven Principles of Innovation

  • Do what You Love
  • Put a Dent in the Universe
  • Kick-Start Your Brain
  • Sell Dreams, Not Products
  • Say No to 1,000 Things
  • Create Insanely Great Experiences
  • Master the Message

[Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Networking for CIO.com.]

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