Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Triangulating Steve Jobs

Full disclosure - I did not know Steve Jobs. I did not know anyone who did know him. I am not a lifelong Apple fan - ownership of my first Apple product occurred less than 1 year ago (iPad last November).
As is often the case when I seek to learn something, I try to get my hands on several pieces of information and attempt to triangulate to what is important or identify some set of factors that might serve as a common denominator. For those not familiar, triangulation is a process where you take one perspective, and then a different one, and from that we can begin to get a full 3-D representation rather than a one dimensional viewpoint.
Call it the curse of being analytical.
So in order to understand what Steve Jobs might have truly represented, as opposed to being named the next Saint, I read a lot of articles. For the purposes of this post, we will consider four:
We All Agree
Creativity and Design – all 4 authors identified this factor as one of Jobs’ contributions in one form or another. Lashinsky discussed the few management meetings Apple held, the fact that they said no to many things, and that a group of two wrote the entire Safari browser code. Hamel touched on this principle in his “Be Unreasonable” trait, where he discusses moving from either/or to both/and as being a hallmark of achieving the “impossible”. Filloux notes that Jobs could "connect aesthetics with function".
Most of Us Agree
Marketing – three of the four articles discussed marketing, but even further than that one particular element. Lashinsky: “People don’t know what they want until you show them”. Kawasaki: “customers cannot tell you what they want”. Hamel:  “Be Unreasonable… Aim to Surprise”. Hamel further notes that Jobs sought to “produce the same sort of gee-whiz delight that a parent aims for on Christmas morning”.
Accountability – all but Hamel mentioned a culture of accountability as an Jobs legacy, though this is putting it nicely. Kawasaki stated “I lived in fear that Steve would tell me that I, or my work, was crap”.  Lashinsky discusses the concept of the “DRI”, or Directly Responsible Individual, and also discusses a “brutal” atmosphere, “dictatorship” leadership, and long lasting “fear of retributions”. Filloux quotes Jobs’ statement that there are “zero” committees at Apple.
Be Different – Lashinsky discusses several aspects to this trait, discussing that Apple seeks to operate “like a start-up” despite its size, and that it “thumbs its nose at modern corporate conventions”.  Kawasaki said that Jobs would “Jump to the next curve”, noting that “big wins happen when you go beyond better sameness”. He also notes that “experts are clueless”, and for that reason Jobs followed the beat of his own drum. Hamel discusses that Apple “sets itself the challenge to radically redefine the status quo”.

These 4 factors, Creativity/Design, Marketing, Accountability, and Being Different, are the ones mentioned by over half of the authors. This list is obviously not exhaustive of what others believe Steve Jobs represented. It is not intended to be. But based on these articles, these are the factors that come closest to a consensus.
When I re-read this list, there appears to be hints of a common thread  - "go beyond sameness", "customers cannot tell you what they want",  create "unreasonable" products. This theme is evocotive of a willingness to step out as an individual, resisting the reversion to the collective mean. It means following our own inner light, and listening to the muse within.
So perhaps we can ultimately conclude:
Steve Jobs was Steve Jobs, and nobody else...and that was exactly the way he liked it. 
I would love to hear your thoughts about Steve Jobs or your stories on this topic if you have them.
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