Steve Jobs died five years ago today, at the age of 56.
Jobs launched two of the most valuable and creative companies in modern times with Apple and Pixar — but he didn’t reach those heights by following the rules all the time.
Jobs faced many obstacles to get Apple and Pixar off the ground. But he had a unique way of crafting his own reality, a “distortion field” he’d use to persuade people that his personal beliefs were actually facts, which is how he pushed his companies forward.
He also used a blend of manipulative tactics to ensure his victories, particularly in boardroom meetings with some of the most powerful company executives in the world.
Many consider Jobs a genius, and everyone can learn a thing or two from his tactics.
Here, we teach you how to get what you want — whether that’s in your career, or in your life in general — by using examples from Jobs’ life. Most of these stories were taken from Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, which you can buy here.
Pitching was a key part of Jobs' repertoire, and it should be part of yours, too. The process of selling -- yourself, or a product -- is the key to getting others to buy into your ideas.
Before Apple launched iTunes in 2001, Jobs met with dozens of musicians in the hopes of corralling record labels into going along with the iTunes plan. One of the people Jobs pitched to was prominent trumpet player Wynton Marsalis.
Marsalis said Jobs talked for two hours straight.
'He was a man possessed,' he said. 'After a while, I started looking at him and not the computer, because I was so fascinated with his passion.'
He also pitched ideas to his ad team with a similar passion to 'ensure that almost every ad they produced was infused with his emotion.' The resulting commercials, like the '1984' ad and the iPod silhouette ads, helped Apple become much more than just a computer company.
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple for his second stint in 1997, he immediately got to work trying to invigorate the company he started, which was suffering from too many products and too little direction. Jobs summoned Apple's top employees to the auditorium, and, wearing shorts and sneakers, got up on stage and asked everyone to tell him 'what's wrong with this place.'
After some murmurings and bland responses, Jobs cut everyone off. 'It's the products! So what's wrong with the products?' Again, more murmurs. Jobs shouted, 'The products suck! There's no sex in them anymore!'
People would buy into Jobs' ideas because he was always earnest about what he said. As he later told his biographer (emphasis ours): 'I don't think I run roughshod over people, but if something sucks, I tell people to their face. It's my job to be honest. I know what I'm talking about, and I usually turn out to be right. That's the culture I tried to create. We are brutally honest with each other, and anyone can tell me they think I am full of s--t and I can tell them the same... That's the ante for being in the room: You've got to be able to be super honest.'
Steve Jobs had an incredible work ethic. Jobs told his biographer that when he returned to Apple in 1996, he worked from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day, since he was still also leading Pixar's operations. He worked tirelessly, and suffered from kidney stones. But he insisted on motivating both companies by consistently showing up and pushing people to make the best products possible, and they respected him for it.
Whether they're working for you, or you're working for them, people continually seek approval for their actions -- so they respond very well to affection.
And if you keep giving it to them, they will eventually crave it from you. From Isaacson's biography (emphasis ours):
'Jobs could seduce and charm people at will, and he liked to do so. People such as (former Apple CEOs) Amelio and Sculley allowed themselves to believe that because Jobs was charming them, it meant that he liked and respected them. It was an impression that he sometimes fostered by dishing out insincere flattery to those hungry for it. But Jobs could be charming to people he hated just as easily as he could be insulting to people he liked.'
When Jobs was working with Pixar on 'Toy Story,' which would be the first feature-length film created entirely with 3D animation, the first iteration of Woody the cowboy had gradually turned into a jerk, mainly through script edits handed down by Disney. But Jobs refused to let Disney, one of the biggest companies in the world, ruin Pixar's original story.
'If something isn't right, you can't just ignore it and say you'll fix it later,' Jobs said. 'That's what other companies do.'
Jobs insisted that Disney give the reins back to Pixar, and in the end, Woody became a very likeable and thee-dimensional character (no pun intended) in 'Toy Story,' which went on to be a monumental success.
Another example: When Jobs was designing the first Apple Store, his retail VP Ron Johnson woke up in the middle of a night before a big meeting with an excruciating thought: They had organised the stores completely wrong. Apple had previously organised the stores by the types of products being sold, but Johnson realised Apple needed to organise the store based around what people might want to do with those products.
Johnson told Jobs his epiphany the next morning, and after a brief eruption from Jobs, the Apple CEO told all who attended that day's meeting that Johson was absolutely right, and they needed to redo the entire layout, which delayed the planned rollout by 3-4 months. 'We've only got one chance to get it right,' Jobs said.
Jobs did not like overly complex issues, especially if they required him to make accommodations. So on occasion, he would become totally aloof. As Jobs' biographer Walter Isaacson said, 'Jobs would go silent and ignore situations that made him uncomfortable.'
Jobs used this tactic, which was extremely effective, on several occasions: When Apple's then-CEO Gil Amelio asked what role he wanted to play in the company after he rejoined via the NeXT acquisition -- Jobs couldn't say 'I want your job,' after all -- and when he wasn't sure how to deal with his estranged daughter Lisa.
Chrisann Brennan, the mother of Jobs' daughter Lisa, described this tactic to Jobs biographer (again, emphasis ours):
'There was a community of people who wanted to preserve his Woodside house due to its historical value, but Steve wanted to tear it down and build a home with an orchard. Steve let that house fall into so much disrepair and decay over a number of years that there was no way to save it. The strategy he used to get what he wanted was to simply follow the line of least involvement and resistance. So by his doing nothing on the house, and maybe even leaving the windows open for years, the house fell apart. Brilliant, no?'
It was huge news when Steve Jobs returned to Apple, the company he helped start but had since lost its 'magic.' Jobs insisted he was only an 'advisor' to Apple at the time, but those in and around Apple knew he was really in control. Apple's then-CEO Gil Amelio depended on Jobs for the company's vision moving forward.
So, on his first Thursday back at Apple, Jobs used this newfound leverage to his advantage: He called a board meeting and demanded Apple reprice its stock options by lowering the exercise price to make them valuable again. It was legal at the time, but not considered good business, at least ethically. But even after the board of directors balked at the idea, saying a study would take at least two months, Jobs fired back.
'You brought me here to fix this thing, and people are the key… Guys, if you don't want to do this, I'm not coming back on Monday. Because I've got thousands of key decisions to make that are far more difficult than this, and if you can't throw your support behind this kind of decision, I will fail. So if you can't do this, I'm out of here, and you can blame it on me, you can say, 'Steve wasn't up for the job.''
The board gave Jobs what he wanted. But Jobs didn't stop there: The next day, he demanded all the board members resign, 'or else I'm going to resign and not come back on Monday.' He said all the board members had to go, except for Ed Woolard, and that's exactly what happened. By being able to choose his own board members -- and act independently from them -- he had the power to control Apple's next projects, which made it possible for gadgets like the iPod to exist.
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