How Might Steve Jobs Reinvent the American Economy?

The US debt is over 16 trillion dollars and growing by $4 billion a day in interest is scary.  Even scarier is the growing unfunded liabilities in Social Security, Medicare, and National Healthcare.  If you look at just the debt, the debt per American household is $131,853.77.  If you look at the unfunded liabilities per household, the number jumps to $1,014,782.88.  You may think these are all just esoteric numbers designed by politicians to scare the hell out of the American people.  The thing is those unfunded liabilities hit each and every one of us.  This is our retirement money, and it’s not going to be there.  If the debt keeps growing at the rate it is, the government can’t make up the shortfall.

After looking at the numbers, I was reminded of the Einstein quote about the thinking that created the problem won’t work to solve it.  To get out of this financial quagmire we’ve created we need some out of the box thinking.  Who was better at out of the box thinking than Steve Jobs?  So, I tried to imagine how Steve Jobs might reinvent the US economy and get us growing again and eliminating the debt.

Leadership isn’t a popularity contest.  Everyone wants to be liked, but Steve recognized that if you’re in a leadership position, you can’t be everyone’s best friend.  Leaders have to make the tough calls, the hard decisions, and sometimes, be unpopular because you did.  Leadership isn’t easy and it’s frequently a very lonely job.  If it isn’t, you’re not much of a leader. If you choose to be all things to all people, you will be nothing to almost everyone. A leader must choose how to serve their stakeholders.  There is risk involved in sharing your convictions about the future.  A leader cannot pay top dollars to people who do not create value for their stakeholders.

Unleash innovation by reducing regulation.  Government regulation isn’t designed to ramp up creativity and innovation.  It’s basically the government trying to close the loopholes that entrepreneurs use to grow a business, an industry, and ultimately, the economy.  Rules and regulations are meant to hold business back, not let it go forward.  Steve was quite vocal about the need for reduced government regulation. He shared his thinking with President Obama before his death. He was certain it would cause problems in the future for our country. Guess what, the future is now.  Steve believed the free market was the best accelerator for growth in emerging markets. However, this didn’t mean he wouldn’t aggressively protect his ideas and technologies.

Build a high performing advisory team.  Why don’t we have the best business minds in the country working on fixing this economy?  Where is the job creating A-Team, meeting regularly to get people back to work?  We know they’re out there, why aren’t we listening to them?  One of Steve Jobs best kept secrets was that everyone on his team brought different strengths on how to build a global brand.  Steve brought out the best in each person, and used the ideas they brought to the table.  He didn’t try to do it all on his own. He was always looking outside his industry to find new breakthrough ideas and strategies. He borrowed some of his best ideas from of the best minds in multiple disciplines. 

Expect breakthroughs and create higher value solutions.  Steve wasn’t the first entrepreneur to expect this.  Every successful entrepreneur knows he needs to push the envelope.  Henry Ford was notorious for producing products that were supposed to be impossible to create, such as the reverse gear and the V8 engine. Are your people providing value to customers?  I recently had a great experience at the License Bureau.  I had a problem with a title and the person provided me several options to help solve my problem, one of which saved me both time and money. It was an incredible experience, not exactly what I expected when I went to into a government office. You could tell that the person who helped me understood how to provide breakthrough service.  

Work harder than anyone else.  Steve expected his team to over-perform and over-deliver on any goal he put before them, and they usually did.  It would be amazing to Steve that some government employees spend more time on vacation than at work.  People sometimes forget that Steve came back to Apple to turn the company around.  It hasn’t always been on an upward trajectory.  He made the difficult decisions about people to bring Apple back from the brink of bankruptcy.  He set the example of hard work and over performance.  Even with cancer, he continued to drive the business to the next level. How would our government officials do if they were made responsible for the money they spent and the results they got?  How much money is spent going home to talk with their voters in the home states? Why don’t they use technology to increase their effectiveness? Haven’t they ever heard of iPhones or virtual meetings?  What if they had to manage their budgets the way families have to?

Design the future you want.  Begin by looking at the results you want for the customer.  Steve would look ahead to a problem people were having that they didn’t even realize was a problem.  He was very good at knowing all the components and assembling the right ones at the right time to achieve the results he wanted.  He would understand that government is for the people.  He wouldn’t confuse who the real customers were and he wasn’t afraid to charge for it.  People wouldn’t be unwilling to pay more taxes if they saw what they got for it.

Maybe if we all thought more like Steve Jobs, we could get things moving again.  It’s not about being red or blue.  It’s about being green.  And when it comes to making green and providing extraordinary products and services, there was no one like Steve Jobs.

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