The King is ailing, who will succeed the King?That is of course the question on the mind of Apple’s shareholders, employees and to a lesser extent its customers and clients (who will jump to a Droid or Google, if and when they create products that excite and service them as well as Apple products).
Despite protestations and reassurances from Jobs and Apple COO, Tim Cook, and despite their not just weathering, but thriving during Jobs-less times, an Apple without Jobs makes many nervous to their core.
If we were to think of Jobs not as a unique and irreproducible person, but as a mindset, skill set and capacity that could be deconstructed and then modelled, not only could Apple continue its amazing growth, but other companies might follow suit.
Much has been written about Jobs trying to figure out his “secret sauce” so that others might use it to propel their companies and careers to extraordinary outcomes.
When the two of us have read about him, several things stick out:
1. Dropped out of Reed College
3. Psychedelics and LSD
4. Trip to India, return as Buddhist
6. Apple under Sculley
1. Dropped out of Reed College – It would be one thing to drop out of a Stanford or even a UC Berkeley for being too constricting to one’s personality, but to drop out of a counter culture college like Reed meant Jobs danced to a different drum that was one standard deviation beyond others who danced to a different drum. To reference Malcolm Gladwell Jobs was and has always been a dyed in the wool “Outlier.”
2. Calligraphy – Calligraphy is one of the best examples of form over function, executed with precision. The beauty and style of it is all about how it looks as opposed to what it says. To produce such beauty, one needs to be incredibly precise in their skill. It’s possible that by immersing himself in learning calligraphy, that not just the combination, but the synergy between beauty + style + precision, became an indelible part of Jobs’ personality.
3. Psychedelics and LSD – I have heard from many people who used psychedelics and LSD, but did not succumb to them, that drugs did not make them crazy. Instead, they have told me that they felt crazy before they took drugs and taking them somehow helped them to make sense of the world (anyone who has smoked pot will attest that whether it’s an illusion or not, they do experience a deepened appreciation of music, food, movies, sex and sometimes even the universe – but don’t ask me, because “I didn’t inhale”).
4. Trip to India, return as Buddhist – One of the central tenets of Buddhism is to replace “making things happen” with “letting things happen.” And that by “letting things happen” not only does your fear of going out of control (by giving up control) not happen, but you experience breakthroughs you never would have realised if you fought to stay in control at all times.
5. Atari – When Jobs came back and worked at Atari and partnered with Steve Wozniak, he possibly appreciated the importance of precision and leanness as Wozniak discovered how to eliminate the number of chips on the circuit board of Atari’s game, Breakout, with both of them splitting the $700 prize for the invention.
6. Apple under Sculley – When it was discovered that Apple needed better controls and operational efficiency and that Jobs was too erratic and in the way of it, Pepsi Co’s John Sculley came in and added those. However during his tenure, Apple lost its heart and soul as a creative and innovative company.
7. Return to Apple – When Jobs came back to Apple to revive its creative, innovative core, he was probably wiser, more circumspect, but no less brash and charismatic.
Taking into consideration the above and to figure out the world according to Steve Jobs, we will now take huge swaths of poetic licence and chutzpah (hopefully something Jobs would appreciate) to explain Steve Jobs according to us.
As mentioned above we think Jobs’ mindset + skillset + capacity is built upon the synergy of beauty + style + precision that is close to the core and the most generative part of his personality. Synergy is different than a mere combination or even collaboration between elements. It’s exponentially greater than the sum of its parts. It also requires being comfortable in the “interstices” and in this instance, between beauty, form and precision and trusting and believing that when those sub-functions seem most disconnected from each other, if you just “let it be” (to quote the Beatles) they will come back together in a new and better configuration (see: How to Go from a Breakdown to a Breakthrough).
What differentiates Jobs from many is that most of the world lives and functions in silos, defends them and resists anything that tries to pull them out of them. Thus people who live in the form silo resist pressure from the function (and certainly the analytic) silo to focus on numbers vs. the emotional experience so important to style. And people in the function silo resist pressure from the form silo to lighten and loosen up and just “get a life.” Such adjacent silos too often interact from a “zero sum game” mindset.
Synergy transcends that transactional stalemate and Jobs fuels that synergy by being able to see into Apple’s customers’ future to products overflowing with beauty, style, precision and functionality beyond what they can imagine. One of the reasons he can do that is that he is not constricted by living in a single silo, but flows naturally between them. By nature Jobs has been a seeker most of his life who has honed his gift of being able to go from divergent, expansive thinking to convergent, focused doing into a deftly effective skill.
Years ago a native from a primitive tribe came to Manhattan and was asked what he thought. His response was: “They don’t see the sky.” That could be applied to any company where competing functions and departments are so concerned with turf erosion and so protective with CYA survival strategies that they can never see beyond either and into their customers’ futures and beyond.
Apple has succeeded under Jobs, because he can see the sky. Using the model above, you might be able to as well.
Mark Goulston is Vice Chairman of the strategic advisory firm, Steele Partners and author of: “Just Listen” Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone (Amazon.com, $24.95). Doc Barham is a business advisor and owner of Full Spectrum Coaching. Together Goulston and Barham have formed Xtraordinary Outcomes which helps companies achieve measurable results beyond their imagination by deconstructing and modelling their best people so their capabilities can be given to the rest. Contact: [email protected] or [email protected].
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