"BECOMING STEVE JOBS"

April 20, 2015

BECOMING STEVE JOBS” BY BRENT SCHLENDER AND RICK TETZELI
 
This is a wonderful book which presents, I believe, a very balanced portrayal of Steve’s enormous strengths and the “flipsides” that came with them, those being rashness, rudeness and a  sometimes disrespect he felt for those who he believed were “bozos.”
 
It  makes a convincing case that Steve mellowed during the last decade of his life, influenced above all, I believe, by newly formed relationships with his wife Laurene, his children and with individuals, most prominently from my perspective, Jony Ive at Apple, Ed Catmull and John Lasseter at Pixar and Bob Iger at Disney, with whom he had developed tremendous trust, admiration and affection and a recognition of their extraordinary competence in areas critical to achieving the level of excellence he pursued in anything he did.
 
Steve was constantly adapting, as the authors rightly say, “following his nose, learning, trying out new directions.  He was constantly in the act of becoming.”
 
 
Pixar was a blessing to Steve Jobs in many ways.  Most importantly, in my view, in introducing him to the incredibly sound management of Ed Catmull and also the inspiration for and commitment to quality presented by John Lasseter.  It also brought to light his ability to “fight back in times of stress” and his ability to make the most of an innovation that put him ahead of anyone else in that field.  In other words, it taught him how to keep his head and fight back when cornered and how to run like the wind in the open field.  And that became the place where he really learned, albeit slowly and sometimes against his natural instincts, that sometimes the best management technique is to forego micro-management and give good, talented people the room the need to succeed." Pixar also helped him “rediscover his self-respect, made him a billionaire, and align(ed) him with people who would teach him more about management than anyone he had ever worked with.  Without the lessons he learned at Pixar, there would have been no great second act at Apple.”  
 
As John Lasseter put it:  “Watching our collaboration, seeing us make ourselves better by working together, I think that fueled Steve.  I think that was one of the key changes when he went back to Apple.  He was more open to the talent of others, to be inspired by and challenged by that talent, but also to the idea of inspiring them to do amazing things he knew he couldn’t do by himself.”
 
All of this brings to life for me, once again, that the most important things in life are founded in relationships.  
 
Still, it is interesting to note what Steve didn’t say.  As Ed Catmull noted, Steve never quite acknowledged how much he learned from him.  “The closest he got was that he said he valued what I did and knew it was very different from what he did.” For Steve, this was high praise indeed. 
 
Jobs took great pride in what Pixar represented.  “If you do your job right, what you create (a film) can last forever,” and indeed it will.  Movies like “Finding Nemo” and “Toy Story” will be with the world as long as the world exists, in my opinion, and that is a wonderful thing indeed. 
 
I was struck by what Steve did as he re-entered Apple.  He wanted to get an inspiring slogan.  From that came:  “Think Different.”  

Steve’s view of the purpose of a company, the singular role of “product” is striking.  Here is how he said it:  “The only purpose, for me, in building a company is so that that company can make products.  One is a means to another.  Over a period of time, we realize that building a very strong company and a very strong foundation of talent and culture in a company is essential to keep making great products.  The company is one of the most amazing inventions of humans, this abstract construct gets incredibly powerful.  Even so, it’s about the products.  It’s about working together with really fun, smart, creative people and making wonderful things.  It’s not about the money.  What a company is, then, is a group of people who can make more than just the next big thing.  It’s a talent.  It’s a capability.  It’s a culture.  It’s a point of view.  And it’s a way of working together to make the next thing, and the next one, and the next one.” No one has said it better than this. 
 
Jony Ive was a soulmate of Steve’s.  He was totally aligned with Steve on the importance of product:  “We trust if we do a good job, and the products do, people will like it.  And we trust that if they like it, they will buy it.  If we are competent operationally, we will make money.”  It was that simple and straightforward to Jony and Steve. 
 
Steve made this remark about creating the Apple stores.  It referenced Pixar.  “On almost every film they make, something turns out to be not quite right.  And they have an amazing willingness to turn around and do it again, until they do get it right.  It’s not about how fast you do something, it’s about doing your level best.”
 
Jim Collins identified one of the great characteristics of Steve or any great leader as a “deep restlessness.”  Collins believes this to be far more important than simple ambition or raw intelligence.  It is the foundation of resilience and self-motivation.  It is fueled by curiosity, the ache to build something meaningful, and a sense of purpose to make the most of one’s entire life.

 
Laurene Jobs’ remarks at Steve’s memorial were especially poignant.  She related how he “shaped how I came to view the world.  We were both strong-minded, but he had a fully formed aesthetic and I did not.  It is hard enough to see what is already there, to remove the many impediments to a clear view of reality, but Steve’s gift was even greater:  he saw clearly what was not there, what could be there, what had to be there.  His mind was never a tap to the reality.  Quite the contrary.  He imagined what reality lacked and he set out to remedy it.  His ideas were not arguments, but intuitions, born of a true inner freedom…Steve’s love of beauty, and his impatience with ugliness-- marked our lives….he was the most unfettered thinker I’ve ever known.  It was a deep pleasure, and a lot of fun, to think alongside him.”
 
She closed with this:  “Like my children, I lost my father when I was young.  It was not what I wanted for myself; it was not what I wanted for them.  But the sun with set and the sun will rise, and it will shine upon us tomorrow in our grief and our gratitude and we will continue to live with purpose, memory, passion, and love.”
 
*****
 
Steve Jobs’ story is an epic tribute to the power of passion, commitment to excellence, to never giving up, to following one’s nose and, in the end, it is testimony to the power of relationships, which allow one to accomplish far more than one could alone, no matter how strong and important that individual strength is, as it certainly was in the case of Steve Jobs.
 
It is also a reminder that the balance of strengths and weaknesses of individuals vary a lot;  that in the end, there is no one “style” that will accomplish great things.  In many ways, Steve Jobs is a lot like Winston Churchill.  Both made major missteps in their careers.   Both were supremely confident and  strongly opinionated.  Both could be rough on those they considered “fools” or, as Steve would say, “bozos.”  But they grew people, at least those that were strong, and in the end they learned that relationships and teamwork really did matter.  They learned from people who also were passionate about what they did and who had strengths he did not have, strengths and qualities he came to respect.  It’s a story of what makes life so interesting, especially if you are as privileged as I have been to have known people with such strong personalities, passions and character. 
 

 

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