Here is an excerpt from an article written by Walter Isaacson for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, and sign up for a subscription to HBR email alerts, please click here.
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His saga is the entrepreneurial creation myth writ large: Steve Jobs cofounded Apple in his parents’ garage in 1976, was ousted in 1985, returned to rescue it from near bankruptcy in 1997, and by the time he died, in October 2011, had built it into the world’s most valuable company. Along the way he helped to transform seven industries: personal computing, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, retail stores, and digital publishing. He thus belongs in the pantheon of America’s great innovators, along with Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Walt Disney. None of these men was a saint, but long after their personalities are forgotten, history will remember how they applied imagination to technology and business.
In the months since my biography of Jobs came out, countless commentators have tried to draw management lessons from it. Some of those readers have been insightful, but I think that many of them (especially those with no experience in entrepreneurship) fixate too much on the rough edges of his personality. The essence of Jobs, I think, is that his personality was integral to his way of doing business. He acted as if the normal rules didn’t apply to him, and the passion, intensity, and extreme emotionalism he brought to everyday life were things he also poured into the products he made. His petulance and impatience were part and parcel of his perfectionism.
One of the last times I saw him, after I had finished writing most of the book, I asked him again about his tendency to be rough on people. “Look at the results,” he replied. “These are all smart people I work with, and any of them could get a top job at another place if they were truly feeling brutalized. But they don’t.” Then he paused for a few moments and said, almost wistfully, “And we got some amazing things done.” Indeed, he and Apple had had a string of hits over the past dozen years that was greater than that of any other innovative company in modern times: iMac, iPod, iPod nano, iTunes Store, Apple Stores, MacBook, iPhone, iPad, App Store, OS X Lion—not to mention every Pixar film. And as he battled his final illness, Jobs was surrounded by an intensely loyal cadre of colleagues who had been inspired by him for years and a very loving wife, sister, and four children.
So I think the real lessons from Steve Jobs have to be drawn from looking at what he actually accomplished. I once asked him what he thought was his most important creation, thinking he would answer the iPad or the Macintosh. Instead he said it was Apple the company. Making an enduring company, he said, was both far harder and more important than making a great product. How did he do it? Business schools will be studying that question a century from now. Here are what I consider the keys to his success.
When Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, it was producing a random array of computers and peripherals, including a dozen different versions of the Macintosh. After a few weeks of product review sessions, he’d finally had enough. “Stop!” he shouted. “This is crazy.” He grabbed a Magic Marker, padded in his bare feet to a whiteboard, and drew a two-by-two grid. “Here’s what we need,” he declared. Atop the two columns, he wrote “Consumer” and “Pro.” He labeled the two rows “Desktop” and “Portable.” Their job, he told his team members, was to focus on four great products, one for each quadrant. All other products should be canceled. There was a stunned silence. But by getting Apple to focus on making just four computers, he saved the company. “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do,” he told me. “That’s true for companies, and it’s true for products.”
After he righted the company, Jobs began taking his “top 100” people on a retreat each year. On the last day, he would stand in front of a whiteboard (he loved whiteboards, because they gave him complete control of a situation and they engendered focus) and ask, “What are the 10 things we should be doing next?” People would fight to get their suggestions on the list. Jobs would write them down—and then cross off the ones he decreed dumb. After much jockeying, the group would come up with a list of 10. Then Jobs would slash the bottom seven and announce, “We can only do three.”
Focus was ingrained in Jobs’s personality and had been honed by his Zen training. He relentlessly filtered out what he considered distractions. Colleagues and family members would at times be exasperated as they tried to get him to deal with issues—a legal problem, a medical diagnosis—they considered important. But he would give a cold stare and refuse to shift his laserlike focus until he was ready.
Near the end of his life, Jobs was visited at home by Larry Page, who was about to resume control of Google, the company he had cofounded. Even though their companies were feuding, Jobs was willing to give some advice. “The main thing I stressed was focus,” he recalled. Figure out what Google wants to be when it grows up, he told Page. “It’s now all over the map. What are the five products you want to focus on? Get rid of the rest, because they’re dragging you down. They’re turning you into Microsoft. They’re causing you to turn out products that are adequate but not great.” Page followed the advice. In January 2012 he told employees to focus on just a few priorities, such as Android and Google+, and to make them “beautiful,” the way Jobs would have done.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Walter Isaacson, the CEO of the Aspen Institute, is the author of Steve Jobs and of biographies of Henry Kissinger, Benjamin Franklin, and Albert Einstein.
We are surrounded by swirling stories of breakthrough ideas, creative moments of genius of one kind or another. And I think it is true that without that right, great idea, there is little chance for that next new, new thing.
But how do you turn that idea into an actual, working, effective, profitable business? That takes old-fashioned management work.
That was the underlying truth behind this Morning Report segment, U. Penn Wharton School excels in Silicon Valley. Note this excerpt:
Michael Sinkula: I have a company here in Silicon Valley. Since I started the company, I wasn’t willing to leave and go to MBA school.
There are lots of Sinkulas out here — with years of experience working in startups, but little idea how to take businesses to the next level, especially going public.
“Wharton operates as a business, not just a business school… If you have an opportunity to tap into a demand for MBAs, you look to the region hat has that greatest demand, and at the moment, that region is Silicone Valley.” (Tim Bajarin, a high-tech analyst in Silicon Valley).
The valley is full of sad stories about start-ups that failed because they didn’t have the right management, so this time around venture capitalists are looking for companies whose execs have MBAs.
(from The Marketplace Morning Report, March 26, 2012)
In an earlier blog post, I raised this question: Which is It? Overmanaged and Underled — OR, Undermanaged and Overled? How about Undermanaged and Underled? The answer is increasingly obvious. A company needs it all: good ideas, breakthrough concepts, good leadership, and some good, up-to-date, old-fashioned management.
There is almost no end to the multi-faceted-expertise needed on the road to success.
The power of redundant “overcommunication” of what is most important to achieve and sustain organizational health
After eight bestselling business fables, Patrick Lencioni has written a book in which he gathers his most important insights from them in a single volume. However, as he explains in the Introduction, “The book is the result of an unpredictable journey, one that began when I was just a kid, probably eight or nine years old.” (He was born in 1962.) It draws upon but almost expands upon those books and really should be judged on its own merits, not theirs. That said, I wish to add that this is not a “best of” book, per se. Those who read it need not have read any of its predecessors, although I hope they eventually do read a few.
First, Lencioni makes a case for organizational health, not because the value of organizational health is in doubt but, rather, because it is ignored. “This is a shame because organizational health is different.” It seems reasonable to me that many (most?) executives take their company’s health for granted just as they take their own health for granted, at least until….
Next, Lencioni introduces “The Four Disciplines Model” and devotes a separate chapter to each discipline. With appropriate modifications, this model can be of substantial value to leaders in any company, whatever its size and nature may be. “An organization does not become [and remain] healthy in a linear, tidy fashion. Like building a strong marriage or family, it’s a messy process that involves doing things at once, and it must be maintained on an ongoing basis in order to be preserved. Still, that messy process can be broken down into four simple disciplines.” They are best considered within the book’s narrative, in context. Suffice to say now that both a company’s health and an organization’s health (be it a company, school, church, etc.) requires a team effort. Moreover, in addition to being competent in what they are expected to do, members of the team must also communicate, cooperate, and collaborate effectively with each other. Lencioni recommends four specific steps to build such a team
To achieve clarity (i.e. everyone involved “being on the same page”), Lencioni recommends that “six simple but critical questions” be asked and then answered. My own opinion is that these questions should be posed frequently. Why? The best answer to that is provided by this anecdote. Years ago, a colleague of Albert Einstein’s at Princeton pointed out to him that he always asked the same questions on his final examination. “Yes, that’s quite true. Each year, the answers are different.”
Question #3 is “What do we do?” and reminds me of another anecdote. When Home Depot held a meeting of its store managers many years ago, one of the company’s co-founders (either Bernie Marcus or Arthur Blank) reminded them that when a customer came through the door, it was not to purchase a quarter-inch drill. Rather, to purchase a quarter-inch hole.
The section entitled “The Centrality of Great Meetings” provides an explanation of how to sustain the rigor of the four disciplines, hence the health of the given organization. My own opinion is that very few meetings are “great.” Most accomplish little (if anything) while wasting precious time, energy, attention, and enthusiasm. They are usually detrimental to organizational health. However, Lencioni asserts – and I agree – that there are four different types (conducted on a regular basis) that can be “great” if leaders follow the guidelines he recommends. (Please check out the material in Pages 175-187.) Of course, if an organization’s leaders are inept with regard to establishing and then following the four disciplines, meetings will accomplish nothing.
For whom will this book be most valuable? It will help leaders of an organization that either needs to “get in shape” or “get in better shape” to gain or increase its competitive advantage. The key considerations include teamwork and clarity. An effective leader is imperative. If everyone is in charge, no one is. Moreover, with regard to clarity, repetition is imperative. There must be constant reminders – perhaps in the form of affirmations – of the shared vision and of what is most important to achieving it. Lencioni calls it “overcommunication.”
Patrick Lencioni brilliantly explains why organizational health trumps everything else in business and, in fact, in all other domains of human initiatives. I presume to add, so does terminal illness.