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August 30, 2013

7 Things Steve Wozniak's ITEXPO Keynote Taught Us About Business Success

By Rachel Ramsey, TMCnet Web Editor

Think back to just a few years ago, when the personal computer didn’t even exist – when we couldn’t carry the Internet around with us on our mobile devices, when almost every U.S. household didn’t have an average of five connected devices and when your contacts were saved in a physical address book.

Over the past four days, ITEXPO Las Vegas attendees have networked, discussed, demoed and learned about how technology continues to evolve. Most organizations have similar goals when it comes to leveraging the latest technology – they want to lower costs, they want to drive productivity and they want to make life easier for end users and employees alike.

In a keynote panel, Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple (News - Alert) and creator of the first personal computer, reminded everyone what it takes to be successful. He told the story of creating the personal computer, the challenges of developing and designing technology of the future, his relationship with Steve Jobs (News - Alert) and what he hopes to see in the future in the world of technology. In the midst of his tale, there were some overarching themes that businesses should always remember in order to succeed.

1. Always challenge yourself.

The Woz wanted to be an engineer from the beginning. He loved science, technology and solving problems, and as an eighth grader was beating seniors in high school in science fairs because he could. Designing, coding and learning were his hobbies.

He was inspired by electronics and engineering. Developing new ideas and actually developing them wasn’t something he was doing for a grade, for his resume or for a job. He genuinely loved to brainstorm and come up with ways to make people’s lives easier. This was something he repeated throughout his presentation and at a press conference following the keynote – if you’re not doing it for you, if you’re not doing what you are interested in, you will never succeed.

“Don’t expect your first projects in your life to be successful,” he said. “Do it for yourself, for fun – for a challenge.”

2. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

When people think of Apple today they think of a dominant player in the market – how many people do you know who own iPhones, Mac computers, iPads or iPods? I, for one, own one of each. Wozniak’s keynote was a refreshing reminder that even the most successful companies go through a lot of trial and a lot of error before reaching that point. Wozniak and Steve Jobs worked together for many years to develop different products. While they eventually became two of the most well-known names in technology, they hit a lot of speed bumps on the way. Names like Twiggy, LISA and Apple II may or may not sound familiar to you, but they were just some of the duo’s products the Woz highlighted that were failures.

3. Patience is a virtue.

Part of Wozniak’s keynote was the story of his relationship with Steve Jobs, and we learned that Jobs was an excellent salesman who was eager to handle the business aspects of technology developments and designs. You may know the story of John Sculley (also an ITEXPO keynote alum), who is known for many things, among them firing Steve Jobs. 

Wozniak and Jobs (Image via

When Wozniak described the development of the Macintosh, he described it as “the future of the world” and “the future of Apple.” While it sold right away, sales dropped, and dropped, and then dropped some more. It was a huge failure. He said Jobs was depressed, he wanted to change the pricing to even lower, and that’s where Sculley came in. When Jobs returned to Apple, “he thought more professionally about all departments.” Jobs learned from showing the Macintosh and LISA to Bill Gates (News - Alert) – “Microsoft never would have learned as quickly without seeing those first,” Wozniak said.

4. Business departments should work in harmony.

While this sounds pretty straightforward, many organizations see a disconnect between departments. Marketing may not market what the tech departments are creating and sales might not pitch what is actually delivered, leading to an unstructured business model. This is something Jobs focused on when he came back to Apple.

5. Marketing-driven companies understand their target audience.

Wozniak worked at Hewlett Packard, which was an engineering-driven company. Jobs and Wozniak knew they wanted Apple to be a marketing-driven company, like IBM (News - Alert). According to Wozniak, marketing means understanding what the markets are, and how to meet the demands of your audience.

6. Value loyalty.

HP turned down Wozniak five times before he created the personal computer and co-founded Apple. He pitched the idea to HP before he knew he had to move on and create something the world needed. Loyalty is important to possess as an employee and an important thing for business managers and owners to recognize. Value your employees, their ideas and stay loyal to how those can help with your overall goals, and you can be successful.

7. Consistency in technology: simplicity of technology, ease of use are key.

Jobs and Wozniak’s vision was a home computer – something users could store recipes on, handle checkbooks and really improve day-to-day activities. Their focus was on delivering machines that anybody could use with little to no hand holding. “You just use it. That was the beauty of Steve’s vision,” Wozniak said. To them, successful products were those where the tech was nearly invisible, and that’s what Apple continues to deliver today. On the iPhone (News - Alert), iPod and iPad, there are no files to manage, data to organize or tech to really understand; you press a button, open an app and can easily accomplish what you want to.

The Future of Technology

Wozniak played a major role in a critical transformational period – he saw life before the personal computer, created it, and today watches the company he co-founded produce one of the leading smartphones in the world. Naturally, the question to ask him is, “What’s next?”

“I want devices and machines that understand my human ways,” he said. The goal of Siri is to seem like you are talking to another human being. “We want them to be best friends – not machines. Our devices are like an extended limb of the human body.”

Wozniak thinks the next steps are in improved human recognition – voice understanding, visual recognition – and wearable technology. “I want devices that make my life easier,” he said. That was the challenge he originally set out to overcome and that is a goal tech companies like Apple continue to work on today. “They should give us more time for leisure the way we should have.”

Edited by Alisen Downey
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