Why and how a “productive narcissist” created a “giant jumble of contradictions and paradoxes”
If for whatever reasons you have not as yet — and will not — read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, this would be an excellent source for information about the internal operations of a company he founded and headed for much of its history thus far, one that now continues without him. Credit Adam Lashinsky with providing a rigorous, comprehensive, balanced, and insightful examination of an organization and a culture unlike any other.
Here is Dallas, there is a farmers market near downtown at which several merchants offer slices of fresh fruit as samples. In that spirit, I now offer a representative selection of brief passages that caught my eye.
According to Michael Maccoby, Steve Jobs was a “productive narcissist,” as were all the other greats of business history…“visionary risk takers with a burning desire to ‘change the world.’”
Lashinsky adds, “Corporate narcissists are charismatic leaders willing to do whatever it takes to win and who couldn’t give a fig about being liked. Steve Jobs was the textbook example of a productive narcissist.” (Both excerpts from Page 18)
Lashinsky on working at Apple when Jobs was its CEO: “To succeed in a company where there is obsessive focus on detail and paranoid guarding of secrets, and where employees are asked to work in a state of permanent start-up, you must be willing to mesh your talents with those of the corporation. You have to forgo your desire to be acknowledged by the outside world and instead derive satisfaction from being a cell in an organism that is changing the world.” (Pages 91-92)
“In contrast to the way Apple runs roughshod over its partners and competitors is the subtle way it charms, then entraps its customers – even though they, too, must abide by strict rules in exchange for interacting with Apple. Retail discounts for Apple products don’t exist.” (Page 149)
“The biggest pitfall in trying to be like Apple, however, is that Apple’s culture is thirty-five years in the making and bears the stamp of one extraordinary entrepreneur who turned into a shrewd chief executive of a sixty-thousand-person corporation. It won’t be a snap for any company to create its own version of the Apple culture. As well, Apple will find out how strong its culture really is – and how much of its success was attributable to Steve Jobs.” (Page 188)
“Companies, like people, aren’t perfect. Apple in the last fourteen years of Jobs’s life was far better than most, but it wasn’t perfect. Jobs was just particularly good at getting us to focus on the good and ignore the bad.” (Page 207)
With uncommon skill, Adam Lashinsky enables his reader to explore dimensions and to understand factors that may be unfamiliar to at least some people who are – or have been – among Apple’s workforce at its headquarters in Cupertino. For me, the appeal of this book has little (if anything) to do with “insider” revelations. Rather, again, one’s man’s opinion, the great value of the material is derived from lessons to be learned from Apple and Steve Jobs in terms of what should be done – and what should not be done – when attempting to build and then sustain an “insanely great” organization. On numerous occasions, Jobs cited that ultimate goal as a process, as a journey, rather than as a destination. To his credit, Apple has probably come about as close as any organization has to reaching it.
Andrea Kates (akates@BusinessGenome.com) is the founder of the Business Genome® project and author of the visionary bestselling business innovation book, Find Your Next (McGraw-Hill, November 2011). As a business strategist, facilitator, and speaker, Andrea has led more than 250 business innovation initiatives for global corporations, entrepreneurs, and organizations including Royal Dutch Shell (Asia-Pacific), Audi, Allstate, Continental Airlines, GM/OnStar, Hewlett-Packard, JP Morgan Chase, KPMG, the Houston Texans (NFL), and P.F. Chang’s. Find Your Next was based on her original research with top leaders of rapidly growing companies including GE ecomagination, IndieGoGo, LunaTik, Autodesk, Cisco, Sharp Healthcare, and Autodesk. Find Your Next reveals the keys to a revolutionary model of business innovation that has the capacity to change business as we know it.
Known to many as the next generation’s “brand whisperer,” Andrea created the Business Genome project to help companies adapt to a rapidly-changing global business environment and to gain a competitive advantage by discovering cross-industry opportunities for innovation. Her hallmark CoLabs immerses organizations in the hands-on application of cross-industry insights.
Andrea is a member of the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) community and featured 2012 TED speaker (short talk).
Here is an excerpt from the first of a two-part interview of her. To read the complete interview, please click here.
To read Part One of my interview of her, please click here.
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Morris: When and why did you decide to write Find Your Next?
Kates: I decided to write it because it needed to be written. Because it didn’t exist. Because I couldn’t find a book to recommend to clients and colleagues that explained how companies were actually finding their way out of feeling stuck—that could actually delineate a process for moving forward and deliver on what everyone was looking for—a path to sustainable revenue growth.
On the one hand, we have classic literature like Michael Porter’s work, but it didn’t focus on discovery and wasn’t written for a world as unpredictable and fast as ours, today
On the other hand, we have books on innovation—by people like Clayton Christensen and Tom Kelley. When you read those books, it’s as if a pure innovation approach is for a particular type of person. An innovator. Born, not made. We can’t all be Steve Jobs (and we shouldn’t try to be).
We needed a book that everyone could relate to, that would help us realize our own innate ability to observe changes in our markets and do something about them. That would help us translate insights into growth.
Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.
Kates: I love that phrase, “head-snapping revelations.” Yes. I discovered three about today’s companies that make traditional MBA thinking obsolete: 1.The speed of the market 2. The transparency of today’s business dynamic—we’re connected and social media introduces many new voices into the purchase decision and 3. The globalization of commerce.
With all three revelations in mind, I literally hit myself on the side of my head and realized why we were all so stuck. No process existed for dealing with them. And the book changed as I was writing it.
Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from the one you originally envisioned?
Kates: I was recently on a panel with Sean Moffitt, author of Wikibrands, and he asked me a similar question. He asked me why I hadn’t written the book earlier. I told him I thought I had to crack the code on all of business genomics before I could even get started.
Well, that was never going to happen—I was paralyzed and overwhelmed thinking that I couldn’t write the book until I had all of the answers. I’m sure all authors feel that way when they start out. And we all have to learn when to sit down and just write.
I took a dose of my own medicine. I always tell clients that asking better questions can be the key to unlocking new answers, new opportunities. So, I decided that instead of waiting for the perfect answers to be ready, I would ask the questions with my readers. The power of the book would be the interviews themselves. My asking questions and my readers, or people that represented my readers, answering them. It was the honest telling of the messy stories that didn’t fit neatly into a 7 habits type of list. Conversations with business executives from P.F. Chang’s, GE ecomagination, Placecast, IndieGoGo, EMC Corporation, J&J Global, Korn/Ferry International, GM/OnStar told the real story of how people found their “nexts”—whether it was a multi-billion dollar “next,” like GE, or an entrepreneurial “next,” like Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant.
Find Your Next went from being yet another academic model or collection of case studies to a very down-to-earth, approachable collection of stories—and the four steps that everyone’s process has in common—whether large or small, business or nonprofit, local or global.
Morris: For those who have not as yet read Find Your Next, to what does the title refer?
Kates: It’s all about taking our organizations from point A to point B. Finding your “next” means just that—how we move toward tomorrow. How we figure out what to do next. When can we see right now? What does it mean about what might happen tomorrow? It’s not as farfetched as it sounds. It isn’t predicting the future, but really looking at the present…and looking at it differently.
How did Nikon see photos changing once mobile phones added cameras, and Flickr and Picasa added photo sharing? Easy.
Morris: What are the core components and major benefits of the business genome?
Kates: You get ahead of the shifts in customer preferences. You evaluate your current performance with creativity, like “trendability”—how well you’re adapting to changes that will affect your company. And your industry.
Morris: Briefly, how can the Business Genome approach help to achieve various organizational transformations? First, of innovation?
Kates: Don’t get seduced into the “let’s create purple tacos” side of innovation. There’s a balance to be achieved between stagnation and pure creativity. The insight here is that innovation can mean recombining things that are in plain sight and accessible, even in another industry—like Zappos customer service.
Morris: Of marketing into a world where customers can be inside?
Kates: Think of your company as an open book or a “glass house” where authenticity rules. We have to observe and listen to our customers—they’re part of our brands now.
Morris: Of talent, culture, and leadership?
Kates: Engagement comes from real buy-in-to ideas. You don’t get buy-in from employee manuals and policies. You get buy-in from real communication with the people you work with.
Morris: Of process by collaboration?
Kates: You need to get all of the players in the room at the same time when you’re designing any new process. The analogy I like is airport design—you can design an airport to streamline baggage handling or make the distance from security to gate the shortest for flyers, but one size doesn’t necessarily fit all.
Morris: Next, the transformation – and proliferation and distribution – of what you call “the secret sauce”?
Kates: Brand is a contact sport these days—everyone (management, front line, customers, competition) has a hand in the molding of your product’s market perception.
Morris: Of the emergence of trendability?
Kates: Business moves at warp speed today. We don’t have to be intimidated by forecast models or wait for the perfect strategy to hit us between the eyes. We can all put “trendability”—the ability to see signs of change before it happens—on our radar screens and build our cultures to respond fast.
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To read all of Part Two, please click here.
To read Part One of my interview of Andrea, please click here.
She cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:
“In the end, all collaborations are love stories”…at least the best of them are, and they must be.
As is my custom when a new year begins, I recently re-read this book and The Creative Habit while preparing questions for interviews of thought leaders. The insights that Twyla Tharp shares in them are, if anything, more valuable now than when the books were first published.
It would be a mistake to ignore the reference to “habit” in their titles because almost three decades of research conducted by K. Anders Ericsson and his associates at Florida State University clearly indicate that, on average, at least 10,000 hours of must be invested in “deliberate,” iterative practice under strict and expert supervision to achieve peak performance, be it playing a game such as chess or a musical instrument such as the violin. Natural talent is important, of course, as is luck. However, with rare exception, it takes about ten years of sustained, focused, supervised, and (yes) habitual practice to master the skills that peak performance requires.
Tharp is both a dancer and a choreographer and thus brings two authoritative, indeed enlightened perspectives to her discussion of the life lessons for working together. Many of the same requirements for effective collaboration on classic Disney animated films such as Snow White and Pinocchio must also be accommodated when members of an orchestra and of a ballet company collaborate on a performance of Stravinsky’s The Firebird.
Tharp characterizes herself as a “career collaborator” who identifies problems, organizes them, and solves them by working with others. Many of the stories she shares in this book “involve the world of dance, but you don’t have to know anything about dance to get the pint. Work is work.” Her book, she suggests, “is a field guide to a lit of issues that surface when you are working in a collaborative environment.” She proceeds to explain why collaboration is important to her – “and, I’ll bet, to you.” Her narrative is enriched by dozens of memorable anecdotes from her career as dancer/choreographer but almost any reader can identify with her experiences, especially with her struggles.
She addresses subjects and related issues that include
o What collaboration is and why it matters (also what it isn’t)
o How and why collaborations challenge and change us (for better or worse)
o How to work effectively with a “remote” collaborator
Note: Given the latest communication technologies (e.g. Cisco’s TelePresence), “remote” does not mean “distant” but physical separation makes mutual respect and trust even more important to those involved.
o How to collaborate with an institution by overcoming problems with infrastructure, intermediaries, and a “deeply en grained” culture
o How to collaborate with a community (e.g. an audience)
o How to collaborate with friends (there’s both “good news” and “bad news”)
In the final chapter, “Flight School: Before Your Next Collaboration,” Tharp stresses the importance of involving others in our efforts. “By standing in our way and confronting us, talking with us as friends [who care enough to tell us what we may not want to hear] or by collaborating with us, other people can help us grind our flaws to more manageable size. For example, my lifelong collaboration with Frank Sinatra.” I’ll say no more about that. Read the book to learn more.
As is also true of The Creative Habit, this is a book to re-read at least once a year, if not more frequently. Beyond its immense entertainment value, it offers rock-solid advice on collaboration, a human relationship that is more important now than ever before in every area of our society. Thank you, Twyla Tharp, for so much…including the fact that you are Twyla Tharp and share so much of yourself in your books and even more in the art you continue to create. Bravo!
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Twyla Tharp, one of America’s greatest choreographers, began her career in 1965, and has created more than 130 dances for her company as well as for the Joffrey Ballet, The New York City Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, London’s Royal Ballet, and American Ballet Theatre. She has won two Emmy awards for television’s Baryshnikov by Tharp program, and a Tony Award for the Broadway musical Movin’ Out. The recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 1993 and was made an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1997. She lives and works in New York City. Her books include Push Comes to Shove: An Autobiography (1992) as well as The Creative Habit and, more recently, The Collaborative Habit: Life Lessons for Working Together, also published by Simon & Schuster (2009). The last two are available in a paperbound edition.