The author of the recent highly successful biography of Steve Jobs (soon to be made into a film according to rumours) has produced an article in HBR, picking out the ‘Leadership Lessons’. This was exactly what I tried to do in two previous blogs, so I thought it would be interesting to see what I hit and what I missed.
Isaacson seems to have none of the concerns that I and others have expressed about the dangers of taking lessons from a genius when there are very few, if any, of his calibre of people around. And many organisations wouldn’t want too many people like him as he was, for many people, an impossible working partner. But, with these reservations, here Isaacson’s extra points that are worth sharing.
The first lesson is that, when you are behind competition in the innovation stakes, there is no point in trying just to catch up, because by the time you catch up, you will be behind again. The lesson is that you must leapfrog your opponents by anticipating the next big thing. Jobs did this when left behind by competitors who introduced music onto PCs, he leapt over them all by developing iTunes and the iPod.
The second is that Jobs somehow managed to combine the big picture and the details, proving that CEOs don’t necessarily have to make that choice. He could have a vision to develop the next big thing while also ‘fretting over the shape and colour of the screws’. And he would never allow compromise on the details, even if it meant delaying a launch or making his staff work all night. He believed that allowing a product that was capable of improvement would not only lead to lower long term sales but also to a corporate culture that allowed second best.
Isaacson quotes other combinations that made Jobs different from other leaders. He could combine the Humanities with the Sciences, to stand at the intersection between the two disciplines, the secret behind his ability to harness creativity and apply it to technology. He was not a great scientist or a great designer artist but he was great at bringing them together and developing them into a business strategy.
The last point made by Isaacson is that, despite his great success, Jobs remained a rebel at heart, never accepting the conventional wisdom, always thinking different, often arguing for the sake of it but always challenging the status quo. Even as CEO, he always wanted to be the ‘crazy one who would change the world’, which is just what he did.
These were the lessons that I missed previously; the other lessons put forward by Isaacson tie in pretty well with my analysis – his belief in simplicity for the consumer, putting products before short term profits, pushing for perfection, only tolerating ‘A’ players, believing in face to face meetings to develop innovation.
However it is interesting to read on the HBR website the comments from readers who do not all share the adulation of Jobs. To quote one sceptical contributor; ‘Does anyone seriously think that Jobs’ success would have been any less had he not been a ‘screaming a-hole’ who terrorised his employees?’ An interesting question to which, according to Isaacson, Jobs replied ‘It’s who I am’.
And it’s a question that never could and never will be answered.
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