Steve Jobs’ 3 Ways to Solve Tough Problems at Apple


Technology company Apple encourages its employees to follow a three-step method used by one of its co-founders, Steve Jobs, to discover breakthroughs and find answers to tough questions. The company’s intention is to promote more efficient, not more demanding, work; in a way that avoids exhaustion and increases productivity, for which it has promised to make its workers’ schedules more flexible, according to CNET, a media specialized in technology.

While some consider that this promise is part of a strategy to prevent the unionization of their workers, the reality is that Steve Jobs’ method allowed him to find inspiration and discover progress, and that anyone can use it.

Here’s the Apple co-founder’s three-step approach to solving tough problems:

Step 1. Zoom out

Solutions to complex problems are hard to find. To discover a breakthrough requires ideas that challenge and alter reality and, according to the Harvard Business Review, Steve Jobs had a great ability to do it. Unlike most people, who try to get closer to solving their problems, Jobs believed that the ideal in these cases is to step back and see the big picture of the situation. This allows you to identify what you are looking for and, therefore, be aware of what you want to achieve. Getting out of the realm of what is currently possible and thinking in terms of what might be possible is necessary.

For example, Jobs knew his technology was going to be big even before there was a product. So much so that when the first Apple Store opened in 2001, Jobs said his role was not to “sell computers” but to “enrich lives,” according to Forbes.

Step 2. Focus

Once the objective is defined, it is good to establish a period of reflection and information gathering. In order to achieve what you want, you need to work tirelessly and Steve Jobs was aware of this. His intense ability to focus (or hyperfocus) made him well known and effective at motivating his employees.

An intense, obsessive focus can be the answer to discovering breakthroughs or solutions, regardless of the path taken to get there. For example, Albert Einstein famously said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I would spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about the solutions.” On the other hand, Tony Robbins has claimed the opposite on Twitter, saying that: “Leaders spend 5 percent of their time on the problem and 95 percent of their time on the solution.” Either way, each path builds on intense focus and the final destination remains the same.

Step 3. Disconnect

If the search for the solution to the problem leads to a dead end or something is missing in the process towards discovery, a break is the most appropriate. A walk to disconnect from the problem is always something positive. According to Jobs, you can’t connect the dots looking forward, only when looking back.

Getting away from the problem can help gain clarity and boost creativity, so breaks are beneficial in that regard. Thomas Edison took short naps when he couldn’t solve a complex question or equation, according to Scientific American. In doing so, he discovered the answer he was looking for. That’s why they often get their best ideas while doing regular activities like driving, going to the beach, or taking a shower.

Sometimes you have to move away from the desk to get closer to the answer, one of Jobs’s strategies to boost creativity. Part of the reason Jobs loved walking meetings was not just because it helped him find answers, but because it helped get his entire team away from his desk to help them get closer to finding the answer and solving the problem at hand. They were working.