Sunday, October 9, 2011

Why was Jobs Successful with Such an Old Fashioned Management Style?

We know that Steve Jobs was a demanding boss, and that he insisted on his ideas. We know that he sometimes fired staffers who disagreed with him. This seems like pig-headedness.

Business guru have been saying these are BAD practices, but they worked for Steve -- Why?

Sara McInerney agrees saying "He was a "high-maintenance co-worker" who demanded excellence from his staff and was known for his blunt delivery of criticism."

Ironically, business gurus also say that Steve Job's is a business leader in the company of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. First, this proves how fickle business gurus are, and how they will use any example to illustrate their points regardless of how well it fits.

Eric Jackson, a blogger at Forbes, wrote  "Top Ten Lessons" from Steve.  I like it because it is fairly factual, and has some actual quotes from Jobs.   The lessons are in red, and are followed by my commentary.

1. The most enduring innovations marry art and science. My comment: really enduring inventions arn't that arty consider the wheel, or the locomotive or pneumatic tires or penicillin -- none of these seem arty to me.  Let's think of an arty invention, how about fat, decorative bows on eyeglasses frames. Do you think fat frames are going to outlast locomotives?

2. To create the future, you can't start with focus groups. I tend to agree with this.  Groups of customers mostly give you nothing useful. First you start with a germ of an idea. Groups are useful in refuting bad ideas.

3. Never fear failure. It was a management fad to say this in the 1990's. This is not original advice. Is it true? For people with good job skills and a little bankroll. Failure is tougher on the poor and unskilled.

4. You can't connect the dots forward -- only backward. This is a cute little proverb. On the other hand, forecasting is best when it extrapolates from the past. The problem is it misses the revolutionary changes. I think this is something one says to consultants who disagree with you.

5. Listen to the voice in the back of your head that tells you if you're on the right track or not. I like this one, but normal humans need to persuade colleagues to go along. Only someone who has spent a whole life being the big boss, would think that listen to your heart is a strategy. Real people need to form arguments to support a behavior.

6. Expect a lot from yourself and others. There is nothing wrong with expecting a lot. The problem is getting belligerent when you don't get get it, so some say Steve did. It is unclear how much of this is actually true. Nonetheless, high expectations help achieve high results.

7. Don't care about being right. Care about succeeding. This is good advice. Too often people get trapped in being right, when it is better to be pragmatic. Always agree to another plan when it is better. This is about maturity. It is also about getting along well with others.

8. Find the most talented people to surround yourself with. When I am hiring people, I always go for the over-qualified person if I can get them. Stronger people are always better. Stop worrying about looking weak in comparison -- that is all in your own head.

9. Stay hungry. Stay foolish. I truly don't get this one. He said this during a speech at Stanford. I don't even know what he means. Perhaps don't take yourself too seriously or too stuffy. Maybe someone could help me.

10. Anything is possible through hard work, determination, and a sense of vision. This is a nice inspirational proverb, and I like the focus one work & determination. I think that talent is an over-valued characteristic. However, in today's world some people are too disadvantaged for Anything to be possible.  This proverb is a good thought exercise, and the optimism and positive-thinking can only help.

As a big boss, Job once said to Steve Levy that about his role that "My best contribution is not settling for anything but really good stuff, in all the details. That's my job, to make sure everything is great.”

A big boss can only have simple messages to a large organization, and does not have time for all the details. It is good for the boss to insist on fundamentals.

The worst Steve Jobs stories seems to be from his early career when he must have been a big asshole. Perhaps all the Buddhism soaked in, and he mellowed later.