In Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs, he writes in the final chapters that Jobs told Ann Bowers "I did learn some things along the way . . . I did learn some things. I really did."
Ann Bowers was from the distant past - the HR director of Apple during Job's first ride there. Isaacson describes her as one of the few who could manage his confrontational leadership style.
So you'd think Jobs meant that he learned he needed to temper that leadership style. But in Jobs own words at the end of the book, "I was hard on people somethimes, probably harder than I needed to be. . . . But somebody's got to do it."
Instead I think he learned something that isn't really articulated in the book. He learned that creativity is the undervalued asset - the competitive advantage . . . even in the tech industry.
Maybe he doesn't acknowledge this because using the word creativity in a business context is a credibility buster. No one believes it is an asset in business. Ask any creative in an ad agency and they'll tell you it is the result of lots of hours of trial and error. Because creativity is the serendipity of fixing an error and discovering something wonderful. Without errors there is no creativity. But there is no guarantee that errors will spark creativity. Even Apple didn't have a 1.000 batting record. Who would want to be in the error business?
Apple did. Jobs was willing to take the time to make errors and had no fear about creating the conflict to fix them. People paid a premium for it. As Isaacson points out: "In 2010, Apple had just 7% of the revenue in the personal computer market, but it grabbed 35% of the operating profit."
Although he never acknowledges it to Isaacson, Jobs had to learn a lot about the financial value of creativity from his Pixar experience. Initially thinking Pixar's value was in licensing its animation technology, he refused to give Disney an exclusive right to license the technology. Jobs was willing to give up rights to the characters and future film development rights to maintain control over licensing Pixar's animation technology. In the end, there's no reference to him ever licensing the technology to anyone else. And Disney bought Pixar - not for the technology or characters which they already had the rights to - but to have rights to all future creative developed by Pixar.
If appreciating the value of creativity is was what Jobs learned, then he still wasn't sure how it works. In his own words: "We try to use the talents we do have to express our deep feelings, to show our appreciation of all the contributions that came before us, and to add something to that flow. That's what has driven me."
I wonder what he would have figured it out if he had more time . . .