Harnessing the Collective
Creativity & Innovation in your Institution


The Power of Innovation

Loosen the Constraints

Articulate the Alternatives

Back the
Best Ideas

Where Technology St Meets Liberal Arts Steet

Fri 30 Dec 2011

Steve Jobs – by WalterIsaacson, 2011, Little, Brown, 627pp            

What did you get for Christmas this year? A few of you might have been given a copy of Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs.Commissioned by Jobs in 2009 (with no restrictions on content) it’s afascinating and candid assessment of the life and legacy of one of the world’sgreatest entrepreneurial innovators. Does it offer any meaningful insightswhich are transferable? Well, yes and no, as Isaacson summarises Jobs, ‘he was not a model boss or human being tidily packaged for emulation’ – any trio of descriptors can only captures a fraction of the paradoxical mix which was Steve Jobs; my list is…

  • ‘cool, charismatic charmer’
  • ‘petulant, prickly, perfectionist’
  • ‘focused, Focused, FOCUSSED!
  • ‘ambitious, arrogant, ….hole’ (one of his favoured terms of endearment)
  • ‘mercurial, maniacal, manipulator’, but above all a truly
  • ‘imaginative, inventive, innovator’

Love him (and few really did), or loath him (and more than a few did) his legacy is remarkable. In the 10 years from 2000 until his demise he had built a company which was worth about 5% of that of the world’s largest company at the time (Microsoft) to one which is now 70% greater than the world’s second largest company (Microsoft).

So what if anything can we take from this remarkable story? First I think was his capacity to build a real team which contained truly complementary innovation skills to those which he possessed. His innovation capacity lay in the area of business and market innovation, creating products we didn’t know we needed and involving access to services (think i-tunes) we hadn’t asked for (but now find remarkably useful). Around him he recruited a design innovator (Jony Ive, a Northumbria graduate) who is the genius behind the simplicity of the i-pod, i-pad and other Apple devices. Add to this a COO, Tim Cooke, the process innovator of the team who built a delivery system involving over 700,000 workers in China to meet the demand for the products and Scott Forstall, the technology innovator who created the integrated software and hardware which fuse to create the remarkable Apple products. Any one by themselves may have succeeded, combined they are now almost unstoppable. The generic lesson is that real sustainable innovationis a team effort and this needs to be built into the DNA of the organisation. Jobs recognised this and has created something which should be capable of outliving the founder.

The second transferable insight arises from an interesting descriptor of Jobs at a young age when he described himself as a ‘humanities person who likes electronics’. Throughout his career he was able to draw upon this unusual combination of interests, eventually creating a company whichhe described as located at the intersection of ‘technology street and liberal arts street’. The general lesson I think is the importance of recognising that innovation so often occurs in the interface areas between disciplines, these ‘innovation zones’ are rich zones to explore.

The third transferable lesson lies in the area of risk taking. Jobs took risks, big risks, some of which paid off, big. Along the way he failed and faltered more times than might be remembered

  • The Lisa – a failed successor to the Mac;
  • Mobile Me – a failed predecessor to what became i-tunes,        
  • The initial failure of Pixar (in which he personally invested $50m) - albeit it subsequently became a huge success;
  • The ‘antennagate’ problems which caused thei-phone 4 to have intermittent service; and
  • The hiring of a less than stellar CEO – JohnScully – who nearly bankrupted Apple and was responsible for ousting Jobs from the company he founded.

I guess we all need to be reminded that failure is part of the innovative process and to be willing to recognise when to keep going withan idea and when to cease investing time or money in ideas which are not going to succeed.

Finally Jobs recognised the vital importance of fostering the creative spirit in organisations. Apple lost this indefinable aspect of its culture after his original departure and its subsequent success arose partly from his reigniting of the ‘muse’ to bring creativity back into the boardroom and brand of Apple. He broke the rules, challenged orthodoxies and recognisedthat ultimately ideas and ‘thinking different’ is what creates real innovation. I think his somewhat poetic advert for one of the early Apple products is a reminder to all of us in leadership roles to value those difficult unorthodox types.

‘Here’s to the crazyone’s. The misfits. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do’

If you have read or read the book what did you take from it?

Bookmark and Share

Comments (0)

Be the first to comment on this blog!

Recommended Reading

Related Articles