by Mark Goulston and Doc Barham
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
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 modeled, 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:
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
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 realized 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
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
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
Taking into consideration the above and to figure
out the world according to Steve Jobs, we will now take huge swaths of
poetic license 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).
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. 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 modeling their best people so their capabilities can be given to the rest. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.